On Atlantic Canada’s eastern shore in northern New Brunswick, among the shortest routes between North America and Europe
On Atlantic Canada’s eastern shore in northern New Brunswick, among the shortest routes between North America and Europe, the Port of Belledune has been building the infrastructure to safely transfer wood pellets onto ships bound for the European power plants that thrive on Canadian wood fibre.
The Port of Belledune has been around since the 1960s. In the 1980s, the port built Terminal II to receive the coal burned at the nearby power generating station. In the mid-90s, Terminal III was built for the more general purpose of shipping commercial commodities. It is 455 metres long and 100 metres wide to support two berths. The average depth is just over eleven metres.
In 2008, the port authority saw the need to build the facilities and equipment to handle wood pellets on Terminal III. Since then, it has loaded 55 vessels
The port currently has two pellet producers as clients and has built bulk warehouses with a 45,000-tonne capacity between the two. The two buildings are fully equipped with dust and explosion suppression systems from the warehouses through the conveyor system that ensure the material is safely transferred from storage to the ships.
One of the advantages this port has over others is the vast amount of land it occupies. Located on Chaleur Bay in northeastern New Brunswick, it’s situated on a footprint of land with access to rail and roads but without the congestion that slows many urban ports. Included on the site is industrial land that was bought to bring additional industry to the area (storage, offices or manufacturing facilities would fit). The Belledune Port Authority has adopted an aggressive five-year plan that includes investments required to achieve potential new clients, and because of its location and abundant land, there is little to limit expansion.
Because of the port’s location (short shipping routes to Europe and access to rail), the Port Authority is targeting pellet producers located as far west as Ontario. And now that the company has experience with wood pellets, it requires only six months to build the facilities to support a new pellet client.
“We have plenty of space to build new storage facilities and the capacity to handle large volumes as well as provide an aggregation location for shippers. In some cases it may make sense to go to the nearest port, but we feel if cooperation among shippers is realized or if the Port of Belledune were to be a hub for one of the large buyers there could be overall supply chain savings and efficiencies realized,” explains Jenna MacDonald, Director of Marketing for the Belledune Port Authority.
|Once the process of filling the ship starts, it is a non-stop operation that transfers 10,000 tonnes of pellets in 24 hours.
On Terminal III where the wood pellets are now stored and loaded onto the vessels, the water is deep enough to fit a vessel that could carry a 35,000-tonne shipment, but if there is need for more, the port authority is willing to extend the dock into deeper water. This is a step that was taken in another terminal with ships that carry up to 65,000 tonnes in deep water ports.
Currently, the pellets are brought into the port by truck since both pellet producers are within 150 kilometres of the storage facilities. The pellets are brought in as they’re produced and stored at the port until the ship is booked and arrives for loading.
At the Port of Belledune, prevention is key so every precaution has been taken to prevent any hazards when handling wood pellets. Everyone on site has been trained in the safe handling of the pellets and precautions have been built into the storage and conveyor system
“The pellets are monitored daily and workers on the terminal are always receiving new training,” MacDonald explained. “Also, health and safety procedures are updated consistently to ensure the highest quality standards at all times; this is key to having safe terminal operations at each stage of a cargo transfer, especially with products like wood pellets.”
|Terminal III currently has two storage facilities for its wood pellet clients: one holds 20,000 tonnes of pellets and the other one holds about 25,000 tonnes.
The infrastructure has been in place since 2008 to make sure wood pellets are stored safely and gently loaded onto the vessels. Ships come and go 12 months of the year so delays are built into the business plan. During cold winter months, they may be delayed due to ice conditions. And in the summer, ships may have long trips that are delayed at other ports. In any case, being prepared with extra storage for overflow makes good business sense and prevents clients from having to shut down mills because of inadequate storage.
The pellets are monitored daily since early detection is the key to preventing pellets from overheating with procedures in place to ensure the cargo is handled safely at each stage of transfer. If a monitor detects that the pellets have begun to self-heat, a wheel loader is on hand to disperse the warming spots and cool them down.
Once the ship arrives, the pellets are delivered on a string of conveyors that is connected directly to the ship loaders. It’s a closed system that’s sealed to contain dust within the dust suppression system through to a telescopic chute that gently deposits the pellets into the vessel to further prevent dust and pellet breakage.
The port operates 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and 12 months of the year. Once the transfer has begun, there’s relief for every piece of equipment so that it’s a non-stop operation. It takes an average of 24 hours to transfer 10,000 tonnes of pellets. Depending on the ship, the shipment can take between nine to 12 days between Belledune and the United Kingdom.