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Pellet logistics

The logistics of moving wood pellets from remote locations across Canada to export markets in Europe and Asia has never been easy.


December 16, 2013
By Andrew Macklin

The logistics of moving wood pellets from remote locations across Canada to export markets in Europe and Asia has never been easy. Many locations lack the necessary rail structure, road network, or water access to be able to efficiently move pellets overseas.

Fibreco  
The conveyor system leading to the dock allows Fibreco to load the cargo holds at a rate of approximately 1,000 tonnes per hour.


 

But with the pellet market driving forward in Canada, transportation companies have begun working together to build better systems for handling material  and for transporting it from the plant to the consumer.

“We’ve gotten better as an industry in terms of logistics,” explains Kerry Lige, president of Fibreco. “I think historically each of us in the chain tended to look inward in terms of our little operation.”

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Co-operation in the logistics chain has allowed companies like Fibreco to see steady growth in annual exports. In 2012, Fibreco exported 1.6 million tonnes of pellets and 500,000 tonnes of wood chips. Situated in the Port of Vancouver, Fibreco provides overseas shipping for Pinnacle Renewable Energy, Premium Pellets, and Pacific Bioenergy’s wood pellet plants across British Columbia, as well as wood chips from sawmilling operations across the province.

Global pellet markets
Shipments of pellets from B.C. producers remain focused on European markets despite the recent announcement of the first shipment from Fibreco to South Korea. “The pellet business is fundamentally European driven,” says Lige. “Specifically the electricity business in the U.K.”

The same cannot be said for Fibreco’s chip exports. Much of the chip volume is sent to the Asian market, with Japan the primary customer.

“In the chip business, our customers are primarily in Japan,” says Lige. “For most of those customers, the chips are for the paper business.  We export the wood chips for the purpose of manufacturing pulp, newsprint. There is some biomass chip that we send over to Japan for some of the electrical companies but that is a small portion of the wood chip business.”

Fibreco’s operation
Pellets and chips arrive at Fibreco by rail cars, each of which holds a capacity of 95 tonnes. The company has the capacity to dump approximately 13,000 tonnes per day on average using a specially designed rotational system that flips the wood chip car in order to collect the contents into a storage hold before it is moved to temporary storage.

Pellets are stored  
Pellets are stored inside the pellet shed at Fibreco before being loaded for shipment.


 

The chips are stored outside in the open air, while the pellets are moved into storage silos and sheds throughout a conveyor system. The silos and sheds are equipped with dust and smoke suppression systems for fire prevention, and the air inside the shed is exchanged four times an hour to create safe working conditions for the staff.

Once a pellet ship is ready to be loaded, the pellets are pushed inside the shed area using Cat and Komatsu wheel loaders equipped with an air filtration system and a modified WBM blade. Ships are general bulk carriers, loaded with 10,000-50,000 tonnes of chips or pellets depending on the order, with one to two ships loaded per week at the Fibreco dock. For loading the ships, Fibreco uses a straight chute with a shirt to contain the materials, loading at a rate of close to 1,000 tonnes per hour. As for chips, dedicated wood chip carriers up to 35,000 tonnes are loaded at 1,000 tonnes per hour via an articulating spout powered by 2,100 horsepower of pneumatic air to achieve optimum compaction.

Five hundred thousand tonnes  
Five hundred thousand tonnes of wood chips are shipped from Fibreco each year, with most of that volume going to Japan for use in manufacturing paper.


 

According to Henry Zea, the assistant terminal manager at Fibreco, trimming the hatch is the most difficult part of loading: it’s important to find an effective way to fill the corners of the hold when dumping the materials in the centre of the hatch. An inefficient system can significantly slow down loading times, waste manpower, and ultimately lose significant revenue for the company. Fibreco has experimented with different systems for better material distribution during the loading process and continuously looks for greater efficiency in this area of its operation.

Improving the logistics chain is also a priority for Fibreco, something that has come a long way in recent years. Rather than chastising other parts of the chain, like trucking and rail, they are now working together to create a more efficient process for their customers. Fibreco has had an MOU in place with CN Rail for three years and information is exchanged more freely than in years past.

“We need to support each other as part of the logistics chain,” says Lige. “We find solutions together that we didn’t in the past.”

That co-operation is providing stronger, more efficient, and more cost-effective systems for moving wood pellets and wood chips from B.C. to customers worldwide.


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