The goal of this article is to address the question: can the production and sale of biomass for energy help reduce the costs of conventional mechanical pile and burn forest fuel treatments? To address this question, this study analyzes data from six forest fuel reduction treatment units that combined biomass-harvesting trials in the Superior National Forest located in the state of Minnesota, USA. Machine operating and ownership costs are assessed. Costs for conventional mechanical treatment costs (pile and burn) are compared with those for a biomass-harvesting option (harvesting and delivery costs less income from the sale of recovered biomass for energy or pulp). In study trials, conventional treatment costs were found to be less than the biomass energy option costs, indicating that the conventional treatment is a cheaper option. A sensitivity analysis of different transport distance and operating conditions scenarios is carried out. Findings show that under certain operational conditions these operations could be cost effective. Conditions determining cost effectiveness are site specific and depend on-site conditions, harvesting prescriptions, biomass stocking, forwarding distance, distance to end users, equipment hauling costs, the number of operations using the same machine, the operator's skill, and truck payload.
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