Maine port expands to handle woody biomass exports

By Lisa Gibson | November 21, 2011

The Port of Eastport in Maine is on the cusp of completing an expansion that will cater to woody biomass demand in Europe.

The deepest and easternmost natural seaport in the continental U.S., Eastport represents a prime location for exports to Europe and in 2009 saw the opportunity to be the marquis U.S. port serving that market, according to Chris Gardner, the port’s executive director. “Back in ’08 and ’09, we saw off on the horizon that this was going to be a market that was going to explode and we looked up and down the coast of the Eastern United States and said … there’s an opportunity there.”

At its lowest running tide, the port has 65 feet of water at its berth and its approach channels are all over 100 feet with no dredging. The expansion includes a bulk storage yard and bidirectional conveyor capable of handling both imports and exports. Initially, the infrastructure is prepared to handle mostly wood chips, but Gardner said it will soon be updated again with automated pellet storage. “We’ve made the design implementations that we have a stage two of the rocket, so to speak, and that’s the pellet industry.”

The Port of Eastport is engaged in active discussions with pellet mills interesting in accessing the European pellet markets, Gardner said, and negotiations are underway. The new port infrastructure will be ready for its ribbon cutting in December or early January. “It looks as though the customer need and our facility availability is going to be very well-timed,” Gardner said.

FutureMetrics, which provides consultancy services for renewable energy policy and project development, has entered into an exclusive agreement with the Port of Eastport to develop the pellet export project at the port, according to William Strauss, president of Maine-based FutureMetrics.

The Port of Eastport will be the first in the Northeast U.S. capable of handling wood pellet exports, one of only three deepwater ports in the region, all located in Maine. The Port of Portland in Southern Maine could also soon see an expansion of its infrastructure in order to handle pellets. F.E. Wood & Sons has proposed a 300,000-ton-per-year pellet mill just 28 miles away and has included in its plans a rail infrastructure update, as well as an expansion of the Port of Portland.