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Expanding Ports for Pellets

A number of ports in the U.S. are expanding their capacities to handle wood pellets, allowing them to take part in the exploding global pellet market.
By Lisa Gibson | November 29, 2011

A number of ports in the U.S. are expanding their capacities to handle wood pellets, allowing them to take part in the exploding global pellet market.

The Georgia Ports Authority will expand its East River Terminal at the Port of Brunswick in Georgia, deepening three berths and upgrading handling infrastructure. But to be honest, that doesn’t surprise me. Georgia has made itself known as a pellet hot spot, both in production and exporting capacity. I don’t want to diminish the huge investment and expansion of the U.S.’s ability to descend on the global pellet market, but this is yet another tell-tale sign that the Southeast U.S. is at a huge advantage when it comes to supplying European pellet demand. The region’s role in the global market is casting a growing shadow that could engulf many other pellet-exporting nations.

What really gets me excited is the port expansion taking shape in the Northeast U.S. The region has been plagued with insufficient port infrastructure, insufficient rail infrastructure and a domestic market that pulls in pellet producers with promises of burgeoning residential pellet heat demand. While that domestic heat market will continue to represent a great opportunity for pellet producers, some are looking to get in to the global pellet trade. And some will already begin exporting early next year.

Maine is home to the Northeast’s mere three deepwater ports, and all are exploring an entry into pellet exports. Some are already almost there. The Port of Eastport in northern Maine is finishing up its expansion now and will be capable of exporting and importing bulk commodities, including wood chips. Soon thereafter, covered storage will be installed, paving the way to export pellets, according to Chris Gardner, the port’s executive director.

Though still early in development, the Port of Portland could have pellet exports in its future, too, as F.E. Wood & Sons sawmilling company has proposed its first pellet mill, a 312,000-metric-ton plant that would export through that port. And the Port of Searsport has at least one pellet producer touting its able infrastructure and planning to begin using it for pellet exports in 2012.

This is exciting. Good news comes into the pellet industry more quickly than I ever could have imagined. It keeps me on my toes, but I don’t mind. I love nothing more than to be a part of a burgeoning industry that bombards me with rapid progression deserving of coverage.

Keep your eye out for the January issue of Biomass Power & Thermal. It includes a feature article that reveals more details about the expansions underway to open the door for a pellet export market out of the Northeast.

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