Canadian Forest Service Publications

The economic attractiveness of short rotation coppice biomass plantations for bioenergy in northern Ontario. 2013. Allen, D.; McKenney, D.W.; Yemshanov, D.; Fraleigh, S. The Forestry Chronicle 89:66-78.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 34373

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

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With an apparent abundance of idled and under-utilized agricultural land in Northern Ontario, there is interest in the ability of short-rotation forests to supply bioenergy and other possible bioproducts. Once established, Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) plantations can be harvested on (roughly) three-year cutting cycles until about age 22. Purpose-grown plantations such as these could be used as stand-alone sources of fibre or used in conjunction with sources such as natural forests or woody residues. Using a recently developed land cover model we found that approximately 405 500 ha of agricultural-type land exists across Northern Ontario. Numerous scenarios were developed to calculate SRC profitability on these areas. The analyses are intended to reflect a broad range of expectations on physical yields and prices, including management costs. Although SRC involves a considerable up-front investment, our simulations suggest a significant amount of land could have a break-even biomass price of $85/oven-dried tonnes (ODT) (+/- $5/ODT) at farm gate. This farm gate biomass price represents roughly current traditional biomass prices paid. Thus SRC would need to produce biomass at a comparable cost to be a competitive option. A number of technological and price changes could increase the attractiveness of SRC systems in Northern Ontario, including decreases in establishment and management costs (while maintaining yield expectations) and improved cultivars offering increased yields.

Plain Language Summary

We looked at the economic feasibility of planting fast-growing trees on agricultural lands in northern Ontario, where there are estimated to be over 400,000 hectares of unused agricultural land. Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) plantations could be a source of bioenergy or other bioproducts for northern communities. Plantations of willow or poplar can be easily established from cuttings, grow quickly and resprout after harvest. They can be harvested after three to four years of growth and every three years thereafter for up to 22 years. We examined a range of establishment and maintenance costs ($3176- 8360/ha) to determine expected profitability. Yield was predicted to be 5-10 oven-dried tonnes (ODT)/ha. Harvesting costs were assumed to be $25/ODT, with an assumed current biomass price of $85/ODT and a carbon value of $10/tonne of CO2e for some of the simulations. The computer-based modeling suggests significant biomass growth and yield would be required in order to be economically viable, due to the high initial investment. The simulations suggest that a significant amount of land could have a break-even biomass price of $85/ODT (+/- $5/ODT), not including costs such as shipping. The attractiveness of SRC plantations in northern Ontario could increase with changes in technology and market price of biomass.