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Mechanization and biomass production: a multimedia training course

As production resumes after the stoppage caused by the pandemic, great opportunities emerge for the green economy, but the primary sector needs workers in the field. With this in mind, the Ministry of Agriculture has funded a training course, available for free online, on the mechanization of the supply chains linked to bioenergy

by Matteo Monni
April - May 2020 | Back

After two interminable months of emergency due to Covid-19, with great sacrifices in Italy we have finally entered the so-called phase 2. Now, gearing up to avoid a resurgence of the virus, we look to the future hoping for a quick return to normality.

But what normality are we talking about? Let’s not forget that before the coronavirus pandemic, the entire planet - not only mankind - needed an intensive therapy to contain the effects of global warming. We should not overlook the Pope’s warning when he reminds us that “you cannot be well on a sick planet”.

For this reason, in order for the recovery to be sustainable, we should cherish what the emergency has taught us in recent weeks by changing many of our habits. Here are a few examples that emerged very quickly: we got proof that by changing individual behaviours, the problems of traffic, pollution, food waste and waste production can be contained; we witnessed the start of the era of smart working and e-learning with a significant Italian delay compared to the European average; we re-evaluated the role of vital production chains, starting from agriculture, the food supply chain, the production and distribution of energy and related industries, and all public utility services.

the due credit has been given to the central role of research, scientists and technical expertise in general; Unfortunately, despite their undeniable efforts, we witnessed - for the umpteenth time - the difficulty that politicians have in interpreting the production system in terms of complex supply chains, as in the case of the bioeconomy. An emblematic example was Law Decree no. 19 of 25 March, with which the Government excluded the ATECO (Business Category) codes relating to the production of agricultural machinery from the list of industrial activities deemed essential. To contain the effects of this provision, the president of FederUnacoma stated on several occasions that “agriculture is in all respects a strategic asset for the production of food and biomass for energy use, and the world of agricultural mechanization belongs to it fully, from a supply chain perspective”.

This whole affair demonstrated that human health and the health of the planet have never been so intertwined, and that we should not let ourselves be caught unprepared.

To tackle the complex problem of climate change, one of the main challenges regards the circular bioeconomy and green energy with which to replace fossil fuels. Today, in Italy, bioenergy stands out among the RES, producing 50% of all national green energy with about 11 million tonnes of oil equivalent.

Looking ahead, according to the guidelines of the European Green Deal, the (industrial and energy) usage of biomass will have to be further increased. The latter contributes to the protection of the natural environment through the recovery and exploitation of waste, in particular that produced by agricultural, livestock and forestry activities. It can also facilitate the remediation of marginal or degraded land with the introduction of crops for energy production, as well as acting as a driver for the correct management of our forestry and rural heritage.

Modern agricultural and forestry mechanization plays a key role in all this, helping to move the biomass resource at low costs and while ensuring high quality standards.

For these reasons, ENAMA (National Agricultural Mechanization Body), as part of the ENAGRI project financed by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (Mipaaf), has commissioned from ITABIA (Italian Biomass Association) a training course to stimulate the dissemination of innovative techniques and technologies to optimize operations in the field for handling biomass.

The course “Machines and equipment used for the production of biomass for energy purposes” addresses - in terms of maximum sustainability - the most advanced criteria for the production, harvesting, conditioning, transport and storage of the various types of biomass (forestry, agricultural waste, and cultivated ad hoc).

It aims to identify best practices in these various areas for their cost effectiveness and low environmental impact.

The course was created by an ITABIA working group coordinated by Matteo Monni (Vice President), who called upon the valuable collaboration of Raffaele Spinelli (Director) and Gianni Picchi (Partner), both researchers of the CNR-IBE (Institute for Bioeconomy) whose undisputed experience is the result of decades of field experimentation.

The working group described in detail the optimal mechanization and operating sites in the following settings: agricultural: olive groves, vineyards, orchards and dedicated crops. Techniques to enhance residual biomass (pruning and end-of-cycle extractions).

Forestry: coppice and standard forests. Techniques for logging and thinning based on the forest formations and the geomorphological context (slopes). 

Intermediate (agro-forestry): riverbeds. Techniques that make land maintenance work economically sustainable. 

A key element of the course is the analysis of the biofuel production costs, related mainly to the work systems used, the organization of the sites, and the expertise of the workers. With this in mind, the specific local and environmental conditions are also very important.

In forestry, the type of forest, the slope, and the unevenness of the terrain all matter. In an agricultural setting, the planting layout, the width of the headland and the pruning intensity are important.

The machines and sites must be appropriate to the quality specifications of the biofuel that is to be produced, which - in turn - is conditioned by the type of apparatus used for the energy conversion.

In general, small boilers will be more demanding in terms of quality than large plants. In any case, the quality is affected by some prevailing factors such as: humidity, size, and ash content.

The course, divided into three distinct sections on audio-visual media, lasts almost an hour and a half (see box). All the material will be published starting from May through the section dedicated to the ENAGRI Project on the ENAMA website ( and obviously on the ITABIA website (

In addition, the course will be widely disseminated through the Energy section of this year’s EIMA International Exhibition online edition; the goal is to make a virtue of necessity!

 Project data sheet

Aimed primarily at agricultural and forestry operators of the wood energy sector, the course contains a large amount of information gathered into three presentations, with stills and infographics accompanied by a narrator, for a total of approximately 85 minutes. The presentations are divided into 130 screens, featuring 290 photos, 15 graphs, 10 tables, drawings and maps. All the training contents set out in the course have been transcribed in a document, in a rich graphic format, whose text (about 80,000 characters) refers to the video images, specifying the associated timecode. Lastly, for those interested in self-assessing the degree of learning they have achieved, a questionnaire was created featuring multiple choice questions and their answers.


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