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New venture kicks off with a Volvo L150F

A new L150F wheeled loader has been supplied to Balcas Ltd for its newly commissioned Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plant at Invergordon, Cromarty and is deployed as the plant’s prime mover handling both logs for processing and chipped wood pellets.

The new CHP facility occupies part of the old aluminium smelting plant on the outskirts of Invergordon and is the first biomass plant of Balcas Ltd to be commissioned on mainland Great Britain. Having already operated Volvo loading shovels for some time at their timber and Biomass Plant in Northern Ireland, the company needed the reassurance of operating a reliable front line machine that was a known entity and so opted for the Volvo L150F.

The machine has been supplied with both a 3.1m² sorting grapple and a 12 m³ hi tip light materials bucket, both of which are easily interchangeable thanks to the Volvo hydraulic quick coupler. With both attachments the L150F acts as the prime material mover around the Invergordon plant. This includes handling incoming loads of predominantly lodgepole pine and other low grade timber which has to be unloaded, stacked and then fed into the mill for debarking and chipping. At the other end of the process large volumes of chipped and pelleted wood need to be rehandled for storage and loading out into high sided bulkers. To aid stability, an optional logging counterweight has been fitted to the machine along with optional boom suspension. A Groeneveld autolube system has been installed to aid lubrication. In all, some 700 tonnes of incoming timber is handled per week with 100000 tonnes per annum of pellets produced by the plant.

The incoming material is combusted in the Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) and the emerging steam condensed to drive an electrical generator. This feeds power to the National Grid at the maximum level allowed by the connection infrastructure of 5MW. The residual heat is then used in the manufacture of high-energy wood fuel pellets that will provide 48 MW of thermal energy, displacing 60 million litres of oil per year. At its plant in Northern Ireland, Balcas is already the largest UK manufacturer of wood pellets which are marketed under the company's 'brites' brand. Brites can be used in everything from large commercial plants to small domestic central heating boilers and stoves.

The L150F is powered by a Tier III 12 litre Volvo engine developing 284 hp at just 1400rpm. The Tier III/Stage 3 low emission engine delivers high torque at just above tick over, giving the new loaders excellent rimpull and low fuel consumption as well as a significant reduction in noise levels of the E series machine. Much effort has been expended to increase mid-range torque; giving better operability in the most economic engine speed range. One practical consequence of this increase in horsepower is better pile penetration and fuller buckets.

Engine power is converted into work via a new smooth shifting electric-hydraulic HTE transmission. All the operator has to do is select Forward or Reverse. The Volvo Full Automatic Power Shift (FAPS) then takes over and selects which of the four forward and four reverse gears is required – and the perfect moment to change ratio. The system is independent of both machine and engine speed. New software in the ECU adapts to the operators’ style of driving, optimizing gear changing parameters and saving fuel by always selecting the right gear. For improved operator comfort, oil-filled clutches and a Pulse-Width Modulation Valve in the transmission allow smoother shifting and minimize jolting when changing between gears. The transmission is also significantly quieter than its predecessor, and maximum speed has also been increased. The fact that all major components of the driveline (engine, transmission, axles) are designed and built by Volvo means that they work in harmony, in terms of performance, reliability and also fuel efficiency. The L150F supplied to Balcas Ltd is covered by Volvo’s Gold Customer Support Agreement meaning the complete repair and maintenance of the machine is being undertaken by Volvo trained service engineers.

Balcas Ltd is one of Britain and Ireland's largest wood products suppliers, with a turnover of £65 million. The Group has 700 direct employees and in addition, a further 300 people are engaged in forest harvesting and haulage.