Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Reducing the Cost of Willow Biomass by Reducing Harvesting Costs(ST9586-1)

SUNY, The Research Foundation of


NYSERDA has an ongoing effort to commercialize willow. This project aims to improve equipment that has performed poorly in the past; the harvester head. Harvesters from Europe don’t work well in New York because they are not sized to handle thicker stems, making the chip quality unacceptable. Private sector partners on the Stage One team included Case New Holland (CNH, a harvester manufacturer), as well as Forecon, Inc. (a forestry consultant and planting/harvesting firm), and King Machine (a machine shop with experience designing and manufacturing willow harvesting equipment). More recently, other machine shops have expressed interest as well, so the alliance was expanded to possibly include other firms. In Stage One, a New Holland FX45 forage harvester with a modified Kemper corn head was tested in central NY. It produced consistent chips with an acceptable size distribution, but was only effective for short periods of time and not robust enough for large scale willow harvesting. After reviewing other existing systems, a harvester head was ordered from Coppice Resources Ltd (CRL) in the United Kingdom. The CRL head can harvest New York willow, but it fits onto a Claas Jaguar forage harvester, not a New Holland FX45 forage harvester. It was redesigned and field tested, and important modifications, including changing the drive from mechanical to hydraulic, were agreed on. SUNY-ESF ordered a modified head in August 2005. Delivery to SUNY-ESF is expected in 2006.

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Project Description

Researchers working with industry developed a new harvester head that works with an existing harvester. The harvester is still usable (with a different head) with conventional crops. In Stage One, a U.S. corn cutter head that works on stems up to 1.5 inches in diameter was modified, but performance on larger stems was unacceptable. If this had worked, it would have been a less expensive solution.


Harvesting accounts for 40-60% of the cost of willow biomass. The objective is to lower overall production costs for willow by 10 - 20% ($7.50/ton), produce chips of uniform consistency in varying selected sizes, and establish New York manufacturing facilities for a new harvester head that costs $75,000 - $100,000. Product sales in the first year are targeted at 1-2 units, increasing to 8-10 units after five years. Stage One work involved designing the head and reviewing chip specifications.

Project Results

Researchers modified a United Kingdom harvester head for larger US stems that fits on US equipment, tested it during a NYS winter, and explored design changes needed for snowy US operations. Preliminary head design was completed in Stage One. Stage Two objectives included selection of the final manufacturer, completion of licensing agreements for US production, establishment of a manufacturing facility, and marketing. The original intention was to build the CRL head in New York for distribution to the North American market, but it became apparent that it required major modifications to address issues related to the flow of stems into the forage harvester and the build up of snow. Rather than redesign it, CNH decided to design and build a head based on lessons learned. This new head is currently being built in New Holland, PA and as of the end of this project, CNH intended to continue to build it and sell it through its network of distributors. Discussions with several companies that have the capability to manufacture specialized agricultural equipment did not result in plans for manufacturing a willow harvesting head in New York, although they did result in an opportunity to manufacture specialized willow planting equipment. Discussions are currently underway between a firm located near Rochester, NY, SUNY ESF and the company in Europe that holds the rights to the Step planter about licensing the production of Step planters for the North American market.


SUNY, The Research Foundation of
P.O. Box 9
Albany, NY 12201

Principle Investigator

Tim Volk

Universities Involved

SUNY College of Environmental Science an


Project Type:

Indigenous/Renewable Energy Resources

Technologies Types:

NYSERDA Contact Information

Judy Jarnefeld


R&D - Environment & Energy Res

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST9586-1

Last Updated: 12/1/2010