Applying ERP to the biomass supply chain

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Courtesy of MHG Systems Ltd

Green alternatives to hydrocarbon-based fuels are increasingly derived from recycled waste materials, including paper and packaging materials; residues from other industrial processes, and perhaps most importantly, biomass. Biomass comprises plant waste and plant by-products, and currently represents one of the most exciting avenues of research in the development of alternatives to fossil fuels.

With a wide range of crops and plants suitable for biomass, the conversion of plant material into effective fuel alternatives is rapidly emerging into a viable industry.

Making biomass a business

As any experimental technique matures into an established business, so it must acquire the trappings of business operation: economic viability; quality control; secure supply chain and ability to satisfy customer demand. The biomass industry is no exception, indeed, it is a good example of a complex supply chain running across a sequence of producers and manufacturers, requiring technology and management throughout. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools represent a core element in the development of this diverse, experimental project into a serious business, offering formal, reliable methods and techniques for communicating down the supply chain.

“The raw constituents of biomass vary widely across geographic region,” explains Seppo Huurinainen, Managing Director of MHG Systems Oy, a Finnish company which provides ERP systems specifically geared for the bioenergy and energy field. “In tropical regions there is a diversity of crops, energy grasses and plant byproducts; further north, there is a greater concentration of woody biomass: tree stumps, wood residues and agricultural waste.” The variety of biomass means a wide range of land types are used for growing, and a variety of harvesting and processing techniques are necessary. In Finland, from where MHG Systems primarily operates, biomass is principally derived from large areas of privately owned forest: tree stumps, sawmill waste and other logging residues.

“The process of biomass management, especially where the raw material is woody, is challenging at many levels,” continues Seppo Huurinainen. “Logs and stumps are large, heavy items which must be transported, identified, left to dry, monitored and processed before they can enter the biofuels production chain. Drying is a slow but important process, since moisture level is an important criterion in determining the quality – and therefore the price – of the raw biomass.” The tasks involved in managing biomass range from basic log stacking and transportation through to the scientifically precise monitoring of moisture levels through MHGʼs proven algorithm. By integrating location, mapping and scientific information into a single system, MHG Systems can support a complete biomass management process. The companyʼs ERP system predicts and confirms when biomass has reached optimum moisture levels; then derives the most efficient transport routes for collecting and moving the material.

ERP supports sustainability

Unique to its target market, MHG Bioenergy ERP provides crucial support for more efficient and easier data transfer between different elements of the biomass supply chain. “MHG Systems works with customers to develop more efficient, and ultimately, more competitive, business models,” concludes Seppo Huurainen. “Our ERP tools not only increase cost-effectiveness through more accurate data, but also allow companies to demonstrate that their operations are environmentally clean, since the origin of biomass, its energy content and associated carbon dioxide emissions can be shown to be optimised for business and sustainability.”

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