Keeping Pace with Pellet Trade

The Port of Brunswick is one of many upgrading and expanding to meet Europe’s surging pellet demands.
By Tim Portz | July 22, 2013

U.S. Highway 82 follows a predominantly western course, away from the port complex at Brunswick, Ga., running first slightly northwest and then doglegging to the southwest. It ambles through Glynn, Brantley and Ware counties before arriving in Waycross, Ga. This 60-mile stretch of highway traces a path through some of the densest stands of southern yellow pine in the country. Together, these three counties boast nearly .5 million forest acres, most of them privately owned and actively managed for delivery to the area’s forest products complex, including area pellet mills. East of the Port of Brunswick lies the Atlantic Ocean, and the world’s fastest-growing pellet market. Linking this incredible forest biomass resource to power generators in the United Kingdom and northern Europe, which seek a less carbon-dense fuel are port terminals like the East River Terminal at the Port of Brunswick.

In August 2011, the Georgia Ports Authority and Logistec, a Montreal-based stevedoring and terminal operations company, announced a shared investment in the East River Terminal to facilitate the rapidly growing export market for wood pellets. Commenting on the project, Curtis Foltz, GPA executive director said, “The significant expansion and installation of new infrastructure at East River Terminal will accommodate Georgia’s export for biomass fuels and create jobs throughout Georgia’s transportation, logistics and forest industries.”

Investing in this critical piece of infrastructure has proven to be wise and timely, as the demand for wood pellets has increased as predicted, contributing to the highest cargo levels the GPA has ever experienced. In April, 2.4 million tons of cargo passed through Georgia’s ports, a new record. Tonnage moving through the East River Terminal increased 14 percent over the same time frame in the previous year, reaching nearly 670,000 tons. The growth in East River’s tonnage was led by biomass fuels, validating the 2011 investments.

A critical component of the investments was a deepening of the shipping channel from 30 to 36 feet.  Expounding on the ramifications of that improvement, David Proctor, Logistec terminal manager, says, “The GPA also dredged from 30 to 36 feet, which will increase our capability of bringing in larger vessels for pellet exports. With a 30-foot-depth, you can only get maybe 15,000 or 16,000 tons of any kind of cargo into the Port of Brunswick. With the expansion and the deepening of the channel down to 36 feet, we are capable at this time of moving close to anywhere from 35,000 to 40,000 tons of wood pellets in a vessel. “There are economies of scale with the larger-size vessels, and this additional draft allows us to attract a new target market when serving the large-size utility companies overseas.”

Already a significant piece of Georgia’s forest products industry, pellet producers in the state manufacture over 1 million tons of pellets each year. Current production levels, however, pale in comparison to the nearly 3 million tons of production capacity currently planned or under construction. Virtually all of this new capacity is being developed to serve the growing European market. Georgia’s port operators are feeling the momentum, too, and Proctor notes, “We continue to prospect for new opportunities, and there are many interested parties that we are pursuing.”

As production capacity in Georgia increases, its ports are keeping pace, ensuring the critical market access necessary to maximize the opportunity that fuels growth in both the state’s forest products and port sectors.

Author: Tim Portz
Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine