Nov 6 2015
Port of Baton Rouge: Drax’s strategic US port facility
CASE STUDY, by Drax Source
Drax’s US based business is responsible for developing and operating its US pellet plants and port facilities – processing and shipping sustainable biomass to Drax Power Station in the UK, ensuring a secure source of renewable fuel for electricity production.
It recently completed its port facility in Louisiana, US, which plays a vital role in the business’s pellet supply chain.
Located at the Port of Baton Rouge on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the facility acts as an essential hub for wood pellets from its US Gulf pellet plants to flow through, as well as pellets from third party suppliers, providing both a storage and loading terminal prior to shipment. The new facility forms part of Drax’s $350 million investment in its biomass operations in Louisiana and Mississippi.
On 7 April 2015, the first vessel set sail on the Mississippi River from its new port facility. It was the successful culmination of months of transatlantic planning and preparation involving Drax teams in the US and UK, and ship agents, Biehl & Co and Host Terminals, the terminal operator.
The ‘Handy’ sized commissioning vessel carried the first wood pellets produced by its pellet plant in Mississippi, testing the supply chain from plant to port, and enabling teams involved to test the ship loading equipment in preparation for the first Panamax sized vessel, due later in 2015.
Bulk Carrier Fleet
Drax’s ultimate aim for the port is to ship pellets using Panamax vessels, which are capable of transporting up to 60,000 metric tonnes.
Operating within the Port of Baton Rouge secure area, the port-side facility features a ship loader, open plan control building – providing a panoramic view of the terminal – and two 40,000 metric tonne domes for storing pellets. These domes are connected to rail and truck unloading pits via transport towers and conveyors. When the rail unloading pit comes into operation later this year, the facility will be capable of unloading six to seven rail cars each hour, each containing 90 metric tonnes of pellets.
Overcoming logistical challenges
The ship loader is located on a dock which dates back to the mid-1950s. Without the benefit of a new ‘greenfield’ site, the team adapted their plans to accommodate constraints presented by the existing dock. It had to overcome several major challenges, for example building the ship loader and anchor points for the rails onto the existing dock. Work will continue throughout 2015 to provide new mooring points for larger vessels. These are designed with sufficient strength to hold vessels on berth even at times of the high (spring) water flows, which are typical on the Mississippi River.
Connected by rail and road
The port facility will primarily handle pellets from Drax’s two pellet plants located in Gloster, Mississippi and Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. Transporting pellets efficiently, rapidly and in bulk plays a key role in the pellet supply chain’s overall success, which is why Drax is using rail from Morehouse into the Port of Baton Rouge – a distance of approximately 238 miles. Drax’s own infrastructure allows for the use of 80 car unit trains, which will be a mile long end-to-end, carrying approx. 7,200 metric tonnes of pellets in each train-load.
Combining safety and innovation
Unlike Drax’s Louisiana pellet plant, which has an established rail link, its Mississippi plant was designed to transport pellets to the port by truck.
To ensure drivers can unload quickly and safely at the port, a sophisticated automated system has been designed to handle and unload trucks at the touch of a button. The fully automated system discharges each pellet load in under three minutes, keeping drivers a safe distance from the conveyors and chutes, with no need to climb on or under their trucks to unload.