Small Chips Make A Big Difference: The newest generations of microchips are making electricity all over the world in renewable energy power plants

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Fuel wood markets across the globe are expanding. According to Resource Information Systems, Inc. (RISI), demand for biomass will likely triple in just the next three years, with Europe leading the way as a major consumer. Large scale biomass power plants continue to go online around the world, but smaller scale biomass applications are also growing in popularity. Whether large or small, central to these facilities is high-quality biomass fuel, and that of course starts with wood chips. You probably see where this is going.

Bandit whole tree chippers have long served biomass producers thanks to the quality of chips produced by these machines. High production rates and exceptional reliability also make Bandit whole tree chippers the most cost-effective choices for these applications. But biomass isn’t always an exact science—different markets and different applications require different kinds of chips to achieve maximum efficiency. In other words, size matters.

Micro chips are typically the chips of choice for wood pellet production, as the smaller chip dries quicker and more evenly, allowing for more efficient pellet production with higher energy yields. Most chipper manufacturers offer machines or option packages to produce these specialty chips, but they typically fall short when it comes to performance and efficiency. And they aren’t always capable of producing larger sized chips, should they be required for other fuel wood markets.

To get the best of all worlds for these ever expanding markets, you’ll need machines that can not only produce micro chips, but switch back to standard chips. And to realize the best profits, you’ll need machines that deliver the best possible production without losing throwing power, knife life, or fuel efficiency.

That’s where Bandit’s new micro chip drum option comes in.

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Available on the Model 2590, 3090, 3590 and 3590XL, Bandit’s new micro chip drum features double the cuts per revolution compared to a standard Bandit drum. The new drum works in conjunction with a card breaker system designed to help filter out oversized chips exiting the drum. The result is a very uniform wood chip approximately ¼” in size, all without affecting the throwing power, production and efficiency that customers have come to expect from Bandit. Should a larger size chip be required, Bandit’s micro chip drums can be easily converted back to a standard style for normal or maxi-sized chips.

“You can tell just by looking at the Bandits that they put some real thought into their design,” said Joedy Cahoon, owner of J & R Cahoon Logging in Bellhaven, North Carolina. Joedy is a third-generation North Carolina logger, having started in the woods with his dad at age 17. 37 years later his operation is stronger than ever, due in part to a Model 3590 whole tree chipper with the micro chip drum that he uses to supply Enviva— one of the largest manufacturers of processed biomass fuel in North America. He was among the first loggers to sign a contract with Enviva to supply one of their North Carolina pellet mills, and with that contact secured he immediately began looking at chippers to supply the mill with the micro chips they needed.

“We were running another machine at the time; Bandit didn’t have a micro chipper out yet when we started,” he explained. “I went and watched a friend with another machine run his, then I demoed some other micro chippers. My local Bandit dealer got in touch with me, told me Bandit had their micro chipper ready so they brought a Model 3590 out to our job site, and I just fell in love with it.”

Joedy’s Model 3590 is a 30” capacity whole tree chipper with an 800-horsepower CAT C27. The micro chip drum actually boasts 16 knives, giving double the cuts per revolution compared to a normal chipper. Despite these extra cuts, he still packs chip trailers in about 12 minutes and generally throws 20 loads on a set of knives.

“The horsepower was one of the big things that brought me to the Bandit,” said Joedy. It has the horsepower, and it doesn’t put all the chips out the back on the infeed like the other micro chippers do. It’s built better, more solid, much heavier and stronger than the other guys. And Bandit is the only one with the side feed wheels. Watching the other machines, they’d have to grab the wood with the loader and wiggle it back and forth to get it to feed. When we demoed the Bandit, we were feeding bigger stuff and it would take it all in by itself, never stopped.”

When Joedy’s brother Ronnie Cahoon also secured a contract with Enviva, he turned to Bandit as well for a solution and purchased a Model 3590 of his own. Having formerly worked with Joedy at J & R Cahoon Logging, Ronnie branched out seven years ago to form his own company in the area—Cahoon Brothers Logging LLC. They still help each other out, and now that they each have a 3590 micro chipper, they’re both in a great position to supply the south’s largest exporter of wood pellets.

“Joedy got his Model 3590 about six months before we did,” said Sharon Cahoon, Ronnie’s wife and office manager for Cahoon Brothers. “We were a bit more skeptical of it all; we wanted to sit back and watch, see how it was all coming out. There’s a big market right now for the chips, and when a couple new contracts opened up to supply Enviva, we knew it would probably be the last chance to get in so we jumped feet first.”

Ronnie is also a veteran of the woods, having worked just like Joedy from an early age. Their current operation employs approximately 25 people, and jumping with both feet on their Model 3590 has been a profitable leap.

“Ronnie and our sons, they tried out several different machines and the Bandit was just the fastest and the smoothest,” said Sharon. “That made the difference right there. They love the speed of the chipper, how quick it fills the trailers and how well it chips. It’s just been an amazing machine.”

While Joedy and Ronnie Cahoon send several truckloads of chip each day to Enviva, another family operation is finding success with Bandit’s Model 3590 a bit further south.

“We’ve been here a little better than a week,” said Jimbo Nathe of R. J. Nathe & Sons out of Dade City, Florida, referring to a tract the family team was working in the central part of the state. “The first phase was salvage on some pine where it had a beetle infestation. We cut the salvage area, took everything we could to a roundwood market and chipped the residual. And the rest of the operation is going to be chipping of unwanted hardwoods, trying to restore the area to more of an open pine stand, more like Florida used to be.”

Jimbo is actually one of the sons in the business. Robert Nathe Sr. started the company with a cousin back in 1957. When his cousin retired, Robert decided he still had work to do so he kept right at it, forming R.J. Nathe & Sons in 1994. At age 77, Robert Sr. still sweats in the Florida sun every day with the family.

“I stayed in business with my cousin for 37 years, and when he retired I bought him out and changed the name to R.J. Nathe & Sons,” explained Robert, smiling. “We have five boys; they all work with me and the boss lady, my wife Patsy. Unless I get mad, then I call her Patricia.”

Robert, Patsy and the boys took delivery of their Model 3590 in April 2013 to go after some fuel wood markets that were opening up in the area. Whereas Joedy and Ronnie Cahoon are serving a single customer with a specific chip, Nathe’s machine is flexing its versatility to handle multiple markets.

“Right now our main market is a cement plant, where we started out needing the small chip for their old coal boiler,” explained Jimbo. “The other market we’re dealing with is a local power plant. They don’t necessarily need as small a chip as what we’re producing, but the machine is versatile enough to where the chips still meet their specs. Being able to feed two markets is the reason we went with the 3590, and this machine is capable of going back to an eight-knife system to produce bigger chips for other markets.”

The Model 3590 has quickly become a welcome addition to the family operation. Jimbo says they haven’t had a single issue with the machine since they got it, and though much of their work involves sandy conditions, they still see anywhere from 20 to as many as 40 loads on a set of knives before sharpening.

“I’ve been getting some real surprising knife life out of it for a 16-knife system,” said Jimbo. And it throws excellent; we were concerned at first that it wouldn’t throw good with the micro chip set up, with it cutting so small. Well … I’ll just say we don’t have that problem. It throws the chips, and everyone is just really impressed with it.”

Bandit wasn’t the first on the scene with a big chipper dedicated to producing micro chips. But patience does have its virtues, and these three family operations all share the same optimism for the future with their Model 3590 whole tree chippers.

“I’m glad Bandit didn’t have the very first micro chipper to come out because I think they really put some thought into this design,” said Joedy Cahoon. “I really think Bandit has one heck of a machine here.”

“We were primarily a swamp logging crew for the majority of our existence,” said Jimbo Nathe. “We looked into chipping for several years and about a year ago we decided to make the move and get a chipper. As time went on we realized we needed a bigger chipper, and that’s when we decided to move up to the Bandit. It had everything we were looking for and it allows us to serve multiple markets. I don’t think it could be any better. “

“The last four years have been pretty rough, but it’s getting a lot better” said Sharon Cahoon. “We have a big market for the fuel wood chips. I think everything is going to be fine.”

Biomass markets can range from large scale operations like the Enviva, to universities, municipalities, and smaller local users such as factories looking to convert old coal boilers to wood. Bandit Industries continues to work diligently in support of renewable biomass energy, and to help professionals in the logging and tree service industries find outlets to sell chips. Stay connected to the latest biomass news and expanding biomass markets through their web site at, or by calling them at 800-952-0178.