By R. Bruce Striegler

Neptune Bulk Terminals (Canada) Ltd., the largest multi-bulk terminal in North America, handling five per cent of Canadian off-shore exports, has embarked on $400 million worth of capacity improvements, all to be completed by 2015. The first of the terminal’s enhancements, finished in 2011, was a $49 million potash system upgrade, increasing efficiency and improving product handling. Potash, metallurgical (steelmaking) coal, bulk vegetable oils and fertilizers are the major commodities leaving Neptune Terminals for markets in Asia, South America and Europe. “We have three berths, one for steelmaking coal, one for potash or other fertilizer products and a third berth is flexible,” said Neptune’s President, Jim Belsheim.

This August, Port Metro Vancouver approved Neptune Terminals application to build storage and handling facilities for phosphate rock. “We need to upgrade or replace terminal infrastructure and rebuild our inbound phosphate rock equipment,” Belsheim says. He describes how phosphate rock, used in the production of fertilizers produced in Alberta, was the first commodity the company handled in the 1960’s, but that sea-borne imports ended in 2003 when the importer chose an alternative supply source. Phosphate rock imports, largely from Morocco, will once again resume in 2013 through Neptune’s upgraded facility.

Construction will include a new A-frame storage facility replacing the original. New equipment including conveyors to transfer the product from ships to the storage facility and then on to railcars will be installed and a new railcar loading station will be constructed. Neptune will also redesign rail works within the terminal’s existing footprint.

Seeking approval to meet steelmaking coal demand

In June of this year, Neptune Terminals submitted a permit application to Port Metro Vancouver to expand the terminal’s steelmaking coal-handling facility. According to B.C. Government statistics, metallurgical coal exports to China have increased from 140,000 tonnes in 2007 to nearly 4.4 million tonnes in 2010. “We’re planning a $63.5 million investment to install a second railcar dumper, similar to our existing dumper for coal unloading, add some required track,  replace one ship loader and make improvements to another,” Belsheim explains. The work includes an estimated $12 million site power system upgrade for improved energy efficiency.

The dumper will be enclosed and will utilize automated electric railcar positioning equipment. Belsheim says the works will have little visual impact on the site, but will allow the terminal to handle significantly more metallurgical coal. New conveyors for product transport from the second railcar dumper and the replacement of the ship loader boom, as well as foundation reinforcement at Berth One will complete the upgrades.

The project will increase the terminal’s coal handling capacity to 18.5 million tonnes per year by 2015, an increase of six million tonnes. Neptune expects approximately one additional train per day and one additional ship per week to result from the capacity increases. Mr. Belsheim points out that while the project has yet to receive formal approvals from Port Metro Vancouver, Neptune is proceeding, making the necessary application for building permits. “We’re optimistic,” he said.

Made-in-B.C. stacker reclaimer

So optimistic, in fact, that the company moved ahead in 2011, commissioning the construction of a new $20-million coal stacker-reclaimer, now over half complete. Belsheim expects that with project approvals, the massive piece of equipment will be installed by the second quarter of 2013. The efficiency improvements will allow simultaneous movement of metallurgical coal from trains to stockpiles and directly from stockpiles onto vessels. The equipment will increase the terminal’s environmental accomplishments by including an advanced dust-suppression system.

“We made the decision to have this equipment built in British Columbia. We contracted Belleville, Ontario-based EMS-Tech for engineering design, and construction at Ramsay Machine works in Sydney, B.C. Handling the project this way gives us assurance on quality and allows our crews opportunity to study it during construction. We expect a solid installation and start-up.” The stacker-reclaimer will be constructed and tested at the Vancouver Island machine works, disassembled into about three large chunks and loaded aboard a deep sea barge for transport and installation at Neptune Terminal’s North Vancouver location.

Neptune Terminals built on safety and environmental performance

“We believe that a successful business must have links to the community,” says Belsheim. Over the forty years Neptune Terminals has operated on the North Vancouver waterfront, it has built strong connections. “One of the linkages we’ve made is our ‘buy local’ campaign,” and he adds that the coal stacker-reclaimer is a big example buying B.C. “Typically, we may make purchases worth $2 to 3 million from North Shore businesses, but with site construction, that number is running closer to $20 million. We believe that doing business like this is good for the North Shore, for British Columbia and for Neptune.” The company has a long record of community service, sponsoring local youth sports and other community events as well as supporting local charities.

Mr. Belsheim says Neptune Terminals plans for the long term, and strategically acts to ensure the health, safety and well-being of not only employees, but the residents of North Vancouver. “We’ve built our company on the principles of safety and environmental performance, and that includes impacts we may have on our communities. We continue to upgrade all terminal facilities in parallel with the major expansions, and our company’s environmental management systems ensure rigorous audits for certain compliance.” The site-wide improvements include computer-controlled weather stations and on-site dust suppression systems.

First West Coast terminal in Green Marine Environmental program

In February 2012, Neptune Terminals announced it had joined the Green Marine Environmental program. In doing so, it became the first terminal on the West Coast to join the environmental action plan which addresses eight environmental issues identified by the marine industry. Program participants include ports, terminals, shipyards and shipowners from across North America. “One outcome of environmental performance analysis done following our involvement with Green Marine was the purchase of three Tier 3 locomotives.” Used to move railcars around the site, the new N-ViroMotive diesel locomotives emit no more than 0.1 grams of particulate matter per horsepower hour, are quieter and use less fuel.

Up until 2010, Neptune’s annual capacity was approximately 6 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and about the same volume of potash. By 2013, capacity is projected at 12.5 million tonnes of metallurgical coal and 11.5 million tonnes of potash, in addition to one million tonnes of phosphate rock.  Projections indicate that, following completion of all of the terminal upgrades by 2015, capacity will reach 18.5 million tonnes of coal and 12 million tonnes of potash. Neptune Terminals also handles small quantities of vegetable oil, and with the rebuilt phosphate rock facilities, expects to handle about one million tonnes of the fertilizer components in 2013. Neptune Bulk Terminals (Canada) Ltd. is privately-owned by Canpotex Bulk Terminals, a Canpotex affiliate, Teck Resources Limited and Bunge Canada, one of the world’s largest oilseed producers.