Webinar focuses on port development for pellet projects

By Chris Hanson | January 31, 2014

More than 200 listeners tuned into Biomass Magazine’s Jan. 30 webinar, which showcased pellet port developments and projects.

Enova Energy Group’s development at the Port of Port St. Joe in the Florida panhandle was the first project presented by Ben Easterlin, senior vice president of development and construction at Enova. At 1,534 miles, the Port of Port St. Joe is one of the most direct ports to the Panama Canal, and offered access to larger ports such as Panama City, Mobile and Houston, Easterlin said.

The site in question, which is owned by the St. Joe Co., was the former location of the St. Joe Paper Co. and encompasses roughly 150 acres. Enova sees the site as a development opportunity to support its pellet exporting operations in the Southeast U.S., Easterlin said.  “Enova expects, one day, there will be dual-ship loading with modern, dust control with 20,000 metric tons or greater storage capacity,” he added. Currently, the site is awaiting permit approval for maintenance dredging of the shipping channel.

Andy Burns, vice president of Biomass Secure Power, presented the company’s quest for ports in order to find a suitable location for a pellet manufacturing plant. One of the greatest costs of pellet production revolved around transportation logistics, Burns said. “Being able to control one end, or both ends, of the logistic stream gives us an advantage of keeping those costs under some kind of control.”

Biomass Secure Power has evaluated roughly three or four potential sites, but still needed to evaluate issues surrounding wharf space, shipping traffic and shipping costs. “If we are in a particularly busy location, then we could be in a situation where our pellets are required but we have to wait for a week for the wharf to become clear so we can get the material on the boat,” Burns said. “If we are not ready at our loading station, then ship captain’s charge per foot of wharf and any time delay.”

EcoFuels’ managing director George Lyons focused on the issues inherit in locating a pellet manufacturing facility and exporting location. Being farther away from the ports and deeper into the wood basket would yield richer and cost-effective feedstocks, Lyons said. The flipside of that benefit would be longer transportation routes to the port, which could potentially affect the company’s carbon footprint, he added. A longer transportation distance would typically require a producer to have higher transportation costs and address storage issues.

“In our opinion, it was better to match the rail carrier with the plant, so you can have a single haul into the facility, you know when it’s going to leave the plant, when it’s going to get to the port and can turn around within a twelve hour period,” Lyons said.

William Strauss, president of FutureMetrics, described the top three characteristics of successful pellet projects. Sustainability, consistency and reliable delivery were the top traits that demonstrated success Strauss said. “Manufacturing has to meet these standards all the time, consistently and reliably. That’s very important,” he continued.

“Transportation logistics have to be controlled and every step in the supply chain is absolutely critical,” Strauss concluded.

The webinar was sponsored by the Pellet Supply Chain Summit, which will be co-located at the International Biomass Conference and Expo in March 2014.