Rail vs truck transport of biomass

Appl Biochem Biotechnol. Spring 2006;129-132:88-103. doi: 10.1385/abab:129:1:88.


This study analyzes the economics of transshipping biomass from truck to train in a North American setting. Transshipment will only be economic when the cost per unit distance of a second transportation mode is less than the original mode. There is an optimum number of transshipment terminals which is related to biomass yield. Transshipment incurs incremental fixed costs, and hence there is a minimum shipping distance for rail transport above which lower costs/km offset the incremental fixed costs. For transport by dedicated unit train with an optimum number of terminals, the minimum economic rail shipping distance for straw is 170 km, and for boreal forest harvest residue wood chips is 145 km. The minimum economic shipping distance for straw exceeds the biomass draw distance for economically sized centrally located power plants, and hence the prospects for rail transport are limited to cases in which traffic congestion from truck transport would otherwise preclude project development. Ideally, wood chip transport costs would be lowered by rail transshipment for an economically sized centrally located power plant, but in a specific case in Alberta, Canada, the layout of existing rail lines precludes a centrally located plant supplied by rail, whereas a more versatile road system enables it by truck. Hence for wood chips as well as straw the economic incentive for rail transport to centrally located processing plants is limited. Rail transshipment may still be preferred in cases in which road congestion precludes truck delivery, for example as result of community objections.

MeSH terms

  • Biomass*
  • Biotechnology / economics
  • Biotechnology / statistics & numerical data
  • Canada
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / economics
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods
  • Crops, Agricultural / economics*
  • Crops, Agricultural / supply & distribution*
  • Energy-Generating Resources / economics*
  • Energy-Generating Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Industrial Waste / economics
  • Industrial Waste / statistics & numerical data
  • Models, Economic
  • Motor Vehicles / economics
  • Motor Vehicles / statistics & numerical data
  • Railroads / economics
  • Railroads / statistics & numerical data
  • Transportation / economics*
  • Transportation / statistics & numerical data*


  • Industrial Waste