“We hope to do more,” says port executive on unusual export from Twin Ports
Cargoes of 20,000 tonnes of petroleum coke, as it is commonly known, left the twin ports on ocean-going vessels on four occasions between June 2 and 8.
For the Midwest Energy Resources Company, which owns and operates the coal terminal at 2400 Winter Street in Superior, the appearance of foreign ships loaded with petroleum coke was a sight worthy of a double glance.
“It’s been over two decades since we had a saltie at the terminal,” said Jeff Papineau, president of MERC. “One of our clients found an opportunity that required these savors and we were more than happy to try it. It was a fun change of pace for us.
According to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, the MERC has not seen an ocean going vessel at its dock since the 1990s.
While savers visiting the MERC and Duluth-Superior’s petroleum coke exports are scarce, several other Great Lakes ports frequently handle petroleum coke.
MERC itself even maintains two stocks of petroleum coke used by domestic steel customers further down the Great Lakes.
“We’ve always done a petroleum coke business,” Papineau said.
Petcoke is a by-product of the petroleum refining process and is used as a fuel for energy production.
“It arrives in the port of Duluth-Superior by rail in the form of pellets,” the Port Authority explained in an email, “making it very stable in transport.”
Petroleum coke is used to increase BTU levels, often when mixed with coal, in steel production or in cement kilns. It can sometimes be interchangeable with coal for these production processes.
Because it can be interchangeable, it is also a global competitor to coal and is therefore affected by the global production and consumption of coal and petroleum coke.
Federal Dart docked at CRH in Duluth. (Steve Kuchera / Dossier 2020 / News Tribune)
The list of ships carrying petroleum coke from the twin ports included three ships from the Canadian Fednav fleet, including the Federal Champlain, Federal Dart and Federal Katsura. Taagborg was the fourth to ship petcoke overseas.
Another ocean-going vessel is expected to return to the MERC for a load of petroleum coke in early July, Papineau said.
“This was our first time transferring petcoke to salty, and it was quite an experience,” Papineau said of the weeklong rush. “We’re used to loading the 1,000 feet a lot faster. ”
He went on to explain that normally when the terminal loads coal or even petroleum coke onto a lake freighter, the loading does not stop until the vessel is fully loaded. But the speed at which salt pickers unpack their water is much slower, forcing crews to suspend loading halfway for six to eight hours to allow salt pickers to complete deballasting.
It was a whole new experience at the dock and let Papineau praise the crews.
“Our employees have handled these vessels very well,” he said. “Most of our people had never loaded a saltie, or even been on one, but they did a wonderful job. “
Shipping May 2020-21
Petroleum coke tonnage figures are not separately recorded by the local port authority. Instead, the figures for petroleum coke are combined with coal, under a heading of coal and coke. To date, shipments have rebounded from a 2020 pandemic that saw a meager 5.4 million tonnes leave twin ports.
Until May 2021 has already produced 1.7 million tonnes of coal and coke, including 648,000 tonnes in May, 10 times the figure of 69,000 tonnes of May 2020.
Asked about the terminal’s future in petroleum coke exports, Papineau said, “We hope to do even more.