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June 13, 2014





Biomass importers from Ireland tour Estes Head terminal
by Edward French


    The developers of a facility in Killybegs, Ireland, that will import the wood chips to be shipped from Eastport beginning this summer toured the bulk conveyor system at the Estes Head port terminal on June 10. With the tour, they gained insights into the best means for loading and off-loading the wood biomass to and from ships.
Larry Carrier, owner of E.J. Carrier, which will coordinate bringing the chips to the port, is hoping that the first wood chips will start to be trucked into the port in a couple of weeks, with the first trial shipment to Killybegs expected by the end of July or first part of August. The first shipment will be for 16,000 tons.
     Among those visiting from Ireland were John Boyle of Killybegs Stevedoring Company, who has 26 years in the stevedoring business, and Conor and Barry Ronan of the Ronan Group, an Irish renewable energy company. The two companies have formed a new joint venture called Killybegs Bulk Handling Company. The company is presently in the process of building the facility that will receive the wood chips in Killybegs, and the partners estimate it should be ready in eight to 10 weeks. They are investing 1.5 to 2 million euros, or $2 to $2.7 million, in the facility.
     Stephean Chute, managing director of Phyto-Charters LLC, which will be exporting the wood chips, notes that Killybegs will be serving as a hub for then transhipping the wood chips aboard smaller vessels into the British Isles.
     While the port officials and shippers want to see how the trial shipment goes before committing to an estimated annual tonnage, Port Director Chris Gardner noted, "Our goal is to maximize our assets."
     Chute observes that biomass heating in Ireland and Britain is "a nascent industry. We need to build the supply to build the demand." Conor Ronan adds that their company will have "a first mover advantage," and that there is sufficient demand with a limited supply at present.
     Ronan says that to "open the eyes of politicians at home," both parties need to be speaking with each other, with Gardner adding, "We have to help convince each other that it's the right thing to do." While the wood chip handling facility in Killybegs is being constructed by private funding, Boyle notes that any extension of the pier for the ships would require the support of the Irish government. An extension would help avoid congestion with fishing boats, as Killybegs is the largest fishing port in Ireland.
     The development of a sister port relationship between Eastport and Killybegs has been mentioned, and Gardner notes, "Both ports are mirroring each other in assets and aspirations."
     Ronan says that they also met with Carrier and Chute at the University of Maine's Forest Bioproducts Research Institute to see "the hard work that has gone into" developing the shipboard heat-treating system that will be used to meet European Union regulations for importing wood fiber. The shipments from Eastport are being made possible by the development of the new method of phytosanitizing the wood chips aboard ship. Gardner notes that the researchers at UMaine have been "absolutely key" to the project, and he also points to the assistance from Senator Susan Collins' office, along with Maine Maritime Academy and others.

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