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Development of a harvesting machine for short rotation plantations for the production of billets with advantageous properties in terms of handling, drying and storing

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BilletPro (Development of a harvesting machine for short rotation plantations for the production of billets with advantageous properties in terms of handling, drying and storing)

Reporting period: 2015-03-01 to 2015-08-31

The Swedish SME SalixEnergi Europa AB has developed a prototype for a harvesting machine for plantations of fast-growing trees, so-called short rotation plantations (SRPs). This harvesting machine is based on a new harvesting technology that enables an efficient post-treatment of the biomass and thus increases the energy efficiency of SRPs by up to 30 %. It is harvesting so-called billets, pieces of the stem still containing the rod with combustion properties comparable to traditional woodchips. However, several technological developments are necessary, the market potential has to be confirmed and a commercialisation concept has to be developed to obtain a marketable machine. A feasibility study was conducted to assess the technological and economic feasibility of the harvesting machine and an initial business plan was developed as a basis for its commercialisation. The following works were conducted and their results are presented:

- Calculation of the market potential: A sufficient sales potential is the main requirement for a newly developed product. On the SRP sector the sales potential mainly depends on the SRP area and on the specific advantages of competing products:

- Estimation of SRP area: There are no official statistics about the area of SRPs in Europe. All information was obtained from estimations, calculations, databases, surveys and personal communications. Altogether an SRP area of 85,000 hectares was estimated for Europe, providing a sufficient market potential for SRP harvesting machines.

- Competing products: A variety of competing products exists and is available on the European market. Relevant features such as the productivity, the price, etc. were compared.

- Identification of technological improvement potentials: The existing billet harvester is just a first prototype which has improvement potentials, e.g. the adaptation to different environmental conditions. A list of necessary and useful potential improvements was compiled.

- Assessment of feasibility of technological developments: An initial assessment of the technological feasibility of the improvement potentials including the development of first ideas for their implementation.

- Development of a commercialisation concept: Basics for a successful commercialisation of the harvesting machine were assessed. This mainly comprised the planning of the production facilities, transportation and service structures and distribution partners.

- Various small tasks: Investigation of legal framework, internal cost and staff calculations, IPR management, risk assessment, etc.
Of the work stated above the most important tasks comprised the calculation of the market potential of the harvesting machine by estimating the SRP area in Europe and assessing competing solutions in the SRP harvester market, the identification of technological improvement potentials and the assessment of their feasibility, the development of a commercialisation concept and various small tasks. The main results are stated below:

- Calculation of the market potential: The billet harvester has a great market potential. Based on the current European SRP area more than 70 machines can be sold, based on potentials for SRPs or on demand for SRPs several thousand machines can be sold in the best case. The billet harvester is superior to all existing SRP harvesting machines in terms of processing speed, price, etc. and can therefore exploit the full market potential.

- Estimation of SRP area: The total more than 85,000 hectares of SRPs in Europe offer a sales potential of more than 70 harvesting machines as each machine can process up to 1,200 hectares (400 hectares per year at average rotation periods of 3 years).

- Competing products: A variety of competing products exists and is available on the European market. However, the billet harvester offers unique advantages (up to 30 % more energy content from the same area) at a comparable price and processing speed. It is therefore superior to competing solutions.

- Identification of technological improvement potentials: The existing harvesting machine is just a first prototype. Several improvement potentials have been identified. The floatation needs to be improved, for instance, and tracks need to be used. Adaptations are also required in the steering system. Further improvement potential was e.g. identified in the cutting head.

- Assessment of feasibility of technological developments: First ideas for the solution of the identified problems or improvement potentials have already been developed. Technically feasible solutions for all important problems have been found.

- Development of a commercialisation concept: A successful commercialisation of the billet harvester can be expected. The necessary technological developments are feasible, the final product will be competitive. Moreover a marketing concept has been developed, production facilities have been planned and distribution partners have been found.

- Various small tasks: The legal framework, i.e. requirements for the market introduction of harvesting machines for SRPs, were investigated and a concept for the IPR management was developed. Plans for the internal calculation of staff and costs were elaborated and risks were assessed.
The work performed in the first stage of the innovation project can be divided into 3 categories: the assessment of the market potential for the billet harvesting machine based on the European SRP area and competing solutions, the identification of technological improvement potentials including the assessment of their feasibility and the development of a commercialisation concept for the finalised machine.
The first results obtained in stage 1 of the project look very positive: The market potential based on the demand for SRP harvesting machines in general is more than sufficient for a market introduction and the billet harvester offers unique advantages compared to competing solutions and is therefore superior to them. Technological improvement potentials have been identified and first solutions have already been developed, all problems can be solved.
It is expected that these results will be confirmed in stage 2 of the project and that a marketable product will be developed. SalixEnergi’s new billet harvester will increase the energy efficiency of SRPs by up to 30 % per hectare while keeping competitive in terms of processing speed and investment costs. It will save millions of Euros per year for the European SRP farmers and at the same time reduce the CO2 emissions by millions of tons. SalixEnergi will take over the market leadership for SRP harvesting machines and further improve its situation as one of Europe’s leading SRP companies.
The BilletPro prototype in action