We are now well into the final phase of the Wetland Biomass to Bioenergy project, and whilst the remaining participants are consolidating plans and ideas, we are still seeing innovation.
Over the last two weeks we have been trialling a new harvesting machine across some of our challenging wetlands in the Somerset Levels and Moors.
Harvesting wetland vegetation is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the end-to-end process of converting wetland feedstocks into energy.
So far during the DECC project we have seen the development of a Pisten Bully harvester with a Kemper header, which cuts and collects material very effectively. However the challenge of operating this machine on some of our wetland sites is its size, weight and aggressive metal tracks.
Seen in context all these aspects are fine attributes; the size means large areas can be harvested quickly, its weight increased by greater power, larger bin for the collection of material, resulting in a quicker harvesting rate and the metal tracks mean that it is able to pull itself even out of the trickiest conditions. But unfortunately for our wetlands, one size does not fit all and there is a great need for a lighter, smaller, less aggressive machine.
Manufactured in Devon in the UK by Loglogic, the 120hp Softrak fits the bill and trials last week suggest that this more compact, yet powerful machine, with soft rubber tracks will be perfectly suited to the more sensitive sites with access restrictions. Like the Pisten Bully it too has a large collection bin at 11m3, which is fed by a double-chop forager. This enables it to cut and collect wetland material with one pass on the ground and remove the cut material to the side of the site ready for processing.
The Somerset harvesting is to be followed by trials in the East of England as the new machine will used on RSPB and Norfolk Wildlife Trust sites later this month. Trialling on a number of areas enables us to test the effectiveness of the machine on a range substrates and to see how it deals with different types and densities of vegetation.
But so far, so good. The indications are this machine, together with the larger Pisten Bully, will provide wetland managers with the tools they need to harvest difficult biomass.