By R. Bruce Striegler
Steve Robin, Terminal Manager, Pinnacle Renewable Energy, says that the company’s Westview Terminal, opened in 2014, has seen export shipments increase from 540,000 tonnes in the first year of operation, to just under 700,000 tonnes this year. “Previously we were part-loading vessels at the Fibreco Terminal in Vancouver, and part-loading from the Westview Terminal in Prince Rupert.” Mr. Robin notes the initial vessels the company relied upon were 50,000 tonne capacity Supramax class, but has now shifted to the larger Panamax-size ships. “We’ve seen with the larger vessels the maximum cargo size that we can ship is about 60,000 tonnes, 10,000 tonnes or 20 per cent more than we were doing in the past.”
The Westview facility in Prince Rupert is the first purpose-built wood pellet terminal in North America. The $42 million dollar facility has an annual shipping capacity of 1.25 million tonnes of wood pellets, used for power generation, mostly in Europe. Full conveyor and ship loading systems transfer the 12,500 tonnes stored in four silos and the terminal is now handling 33 cars per shift and able to unload eight rail cars per hour, or approximately 1,000 tonnes per hour.
Finding a sufficient number of Panamax-class ships can be a challenge. Current requirements for vessels carrying wood pellets include having a fire suppression system using an inert gas such as CO2. Most Supramax ships have these systems, while only a small number of Panamax vessels are outfitted with them. Estimates are that of the 900 or so Panamax-class vessels worldwide, only about 50 have the requisite fire protection system. Given the transit distance from Prince Rupert to Europe, Pinnacle designed the terminal to accommodate the Panamax vessels, but the June 2, 2015 shipment from Prince Rupert ranked as the largest load of wood pellets ever shipped in the history of the industry. MV Popi S, chartered by Greig Star Shipping of Norway is a seven hatch, 239 metre ship that loaded 59,400 tonnes of pellets and took 34 days to sail from Prince Rupert to Immingham, U.K.
“Doing our best to resolve issues of dust and noise”
Pinnacle Renewable Energy Group is a private, family-founded business in operation for over twenty years, and is the oldest established pellet producer in Western Canada. Driven by demand largely from Europe, wood pellets have become the fuel of the future as large coal-burning electric generating plants either co-fire with wood pellets or convert them to burn wood pellets. British Columbia accounts for about 65 per cent of Canadian capacity and production, while Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland collectively account for 35 per cent.
Following the terminal’s opening in 2014, local residents were disturbed by noise and dust. Pinnacle Renewable Energy and Prince Rupert Port Authority implemented an adaptive management plan to deal with the issues. Technical adjustments were made to gearbox motors on the bucket elevator system, and noise deflectors and further acoustical shielding within the structure were installed. Terminal manager Robin says, “We’re still committed and working hard to ensure our operation does comply with all regulations and levels of either dust or noise.” Robin says that issues with fugitive dust from shiploading have been dealt with by making changes to the loading process. “The way we receive product and load ships now limits dust and our entire system is enclosed. After every vessel we vacuum and clean. Visitors to the terminal are often surprised at the level of cleanliness they see.” Robin says, “We all live in Prince Rupert, take pride in both our community as well as our jobs, and want to be respectful to our neighbours.”
Further work on noise abatement has taken the shape of limiting rail operations including unloading, “We now operate during day-shifts only, we’re unloading or moving trains between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and then our rail operation shuts down.” He adds that cooperation from CN Rail has been excellent, delivering the cars needed on a regular basis. “That has helped drive up our export numbers to where we are today.” Mr. Robin says the terminal is proud of its safety record, “We’ve operated 635 days without a lost-time accident. It goes to the culture we have with employees and management. Everyone is proud to work here, and has bought in.”