Pellets Propitious for Port

By Anna Simet | June 12, 2014

One of the many positive ripple effects of the global pellet market explosion over the past few years is the benefits that the ports are reaping.

This is something we’ve covered in both Biomass Magazine and Pellet Mill Magazine—so not new news—but I thought I’d revisit that topic today, as England’s Port of Tyne is reporting that, for the fifth consecutive year, it has seen record growth.

In 2013, the port saw cargo volumes increase by 25 percent to 8.1 million metric tons, and turnover rose 16 percent to £73 million ($122 million) compared to 2012.

The port’s Conventional and Bulk Cargo Business Area handled 6.4 metric tons of cargo in 2013, more than 60 percent of the total volumes handled at the port. One of two main drivers for that increase was imported wood pellet volumes, which were at the highest level ever recorded at nearly 1 million metric tons, up from 600,000 metric tons in 2012.

Interestingly, the other main driver was coal imports, which also set a record year at 4.9 million metric tons (the cost of coal is currently more cost-effective to U.K. electricity suppliers than other fuels such as gas).

Digging in a little bit more on the increase in wood pellets, it’s not a surprise that it was mainly due to the consumption of Drax, which the port names one of its main customers.

The port only began handling wood pellets in 2010, and a key factor in the continued increase in year-to-year performance was the major dredging of the River Tyne undertaken in 2011. That has enabled the Port to accommodate fully-laden, panamax-size vessels.

Commenting on the release of the Port of Tyne’s annual report, Andrew Moffat, CEO, highlighted the impacts the Port has had on the regional economy—in particular, jobs. At the port alone, the number of employees has increased by 27 percent since 2009, and now the workforce stands at almost 600. And there are another 10,500 direct and indirect jobs in the region that depend on the thriving port, Moffat said.

Moffat also pointed out that for the past five years, the port has achieved substantial growth not only in the performance of the business, but also in the investments made in port infrastructure, including an expansion of its wood pellet capabilities. The port has plans for a potential £180 million extension of its wood pellet cargo facilities (pellet handling, storage and transportation facilities), and in 2013, it spent £1.5 million ($2.5 million) to get things rolling.

For another read on pellets impacting port performance, check out “Keeping Pace with Pellet Trade,” by Biomass Magazine’s Tim Portz.

All of that said, I have no doubt that these positive performance trends will continue at ports involved in and prepping themselves to capitalize on booming pellet markets, and look forward to following it.