By Christopher Williams

Exemplified by its need for a new modular fabrication facility, Belledune Port Authority (BPA) develops a clear vision for a market need, and then makes it happen. “Back in 2007, we saw an opportunity to build the facilities and equipment to handle wood pellets,” recalls Rayburn Doucett, President and CEO of BPA. “We now handle approximately 120,000 tonnes per year of wood pellets in bulk and we, with our partners at Eastern Canada Stevedoring, have become a specialist in these shipments.”

Currently, wood pellets arrive by truck and are stored on the port’s Terminal 3, operated by Eastern Canada Stevedoring. Two bulk warehouses on the terminal have a combined 45,000-tonne capacity and are fully equipped with dust suppression systems that ensure the material is safely transferred from storage to ships. It’s a non-stop operation that transfers 10,000 tonnes of pellets in 24 hours. The sensitive cargo is monitored daily and workers on the terminal are fully trained for safe handling and storage. Shipping lines calling Port of Belledune for wood pellets have included Wagenborg, Flinter and Canfornav.

“Often we are asked if container shipping is possible and the answer is yes,” Doucett proclaims. “However, shipping in containers can degrade the quality of the wood pellet during shipment due to issues with packaging and moisture problems. Shipping in bulk is typically more affordable and is a higher quality shipment method.”

Group Savoie and Shaw Resources are the two principal customers that ship wood pellets to European markets from the port. Group Savoie produces hardwood lumber, hardwood flooring, hardwood furniture components, hardwood pellets, and pallet lumber. Its Canawick brand ecological fuels include bricks, logs, pellets and blocks that fuel wood stoves and fireplaces, pellet stoves and pellet BBQs.

Last year, Shaw Resource celebrated its fifth anniversary at Port of Belledune. “The three main reasons we chose the location were the abundant availability of sawmill waste products, the port, and the third factor was the skilled workforce in the region,” says Gordon Dickie, the recently retired General Manager of the Resources Division of Shaw Resources. “Port of Belledune facilities are second to none,” he stated. “There is ample draft so we can load vessels the size we want. Eastern Canada Stevedoring is a very competent service-provider and the costs at the port are competitive. Finally, the location is ideal being on direct routes to Europe.”

Other advantages of shipping wood pellets from Belledune are non-compulsory pilotage for Canadian Flag vessels which saves on pilotage fees required elsewhere, and the vast land area that is available to the port. “The Port Authority owns over 650 hectares of land which makes trans-shipping extremely viable,” adds Doucett.

Wood pellets have become an affordable and effective energy source in recent years. In fact, 32 per cent more wood pellets were imported by EU nations in 2013 compared to 2010 and the overall market outlook for the value-added wood industry is positive. The demand for wood is growing largely due to the enormous predicted consumption of the Chinese marketplace and the global scarcity of wood as a raw material. The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) will also open markets as New Brunswick is situated for easier access to the market than central and western Canadian companies–better than many U.S. companies and in some cases, even better than Chinese and other Asian competitors.

Typically, quality wood pellets sell for between $275 and $360 per tonne direct from the manufacturer. Of course, the least expensive pellet may not be the best choice. There can be significant differences in ash, moisture, length, and durability when choosing a pellet fuel.

Peter Clark Director, Atlantic Canada at Cyberfreight Systems Maritimes Inc, has shipped wood pellets and peat moss through Port of Belledune. “Eastern Stevedoring Canada has been a phenomenal to work with over the years,” says Clark. “We ran a liner service of peat moss to Florida for two years and there was no damage at all. Eastern has been the most productive and competitive stevedoring operation I have ever worked with.”

Port of Belledune has also shipped wood chips to customers in Europe. Depending on the ship, wood pellet shipments can take between nine to twelve days between Belledune and the United Kingdom.

New Brunswick’s value-added wood sector includes more than 200 company locations and employs approximately 10,600 people. The sector builds on close to 500 forestry and logging operation locations which employ another 3,400 people. With plenty of terminal space to construct additional storage capacity, the future looks bright for shipping more value-added forest products from Port of Belledune.