Green Energy: Wind and Solar Drive Growth in the Breakbulk Sector

Breakbulk port

Published Sep 4, 2023 2:50 PM by Tom Peters

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2023 edition.)

With a global push to develop various types of green energy and major construction projects on the books across North America, the competition to attract business in the marine sectors of heavy lift, breakbulk and project cargoes is creating its own energy.

The port of San Diego recently strengthened its position in these areas by adding some major lift capacity.

It purchased two all-electric Gottwald Generation 6 Mobile Harbor Cranes from Konecranes that will replace the diesel-powered crane at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal (TAMT). These all-electric cranes will be the first in use in North America and will support the port’s strategy of healthy air for all.

The cranes are expected to be operational later this year. The port invested approximately $14 million in the cranes and spent an additional $8.9 million to make the required electrical infrastructure improvements.

Greg Borossay, the port’s Principal for Maritime Business Development, says the motivation to buy the cranes was threefold: To be on the cutting edge of the electrification of heavy lift equipment; from an environmental standpoint, to get rid of the old diesel-powered crane, and to develop more capacity to develop business in heavy lift and breakbulk areas.

San Diego now has the heaviest lift capacity on the West Coast from Vancouver, Canada to the Panama Canal, he says: “This puts us in a good spot for project cargo, especially pieces that are over 200 metric tons. With the two new cranes working in tandem, there will be a lift capability of 400 metric tons.” There will be eight positions for the cranes to work on the dock and four away from the docks because the cranes can be used for rail moves as well.

Heavy lift, project and breakbulk cargoes make up 12 to 15 percent of San Diego’s total tonnage. On its Saga Welco service, it handles steel pipe, coils, H-beams, steel plates and fabrication for electrification projects in the U.S. Southwest plus project cargo out of South Korea and Taiwan.

Other project cargo from northern Europe, like transformers and heavy lift equipment, is primarily destined for Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada where there are several electrification projects underway. On its U.S. Ocean service, the port handles heavy lift and breakbulk plus military equipment and special project cargo going to South Korea and Japan.

Cargo Diversity

Port Tampa Bay is Florida’s largest port for handling steel products serving the construction, manufacturing and mining industries, says Wade Elliott, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Business Development.

“Throughout the port and the Tampa Bay region, there are many companies that specialize in the processing, distribution, fabrication and manufacturing of steel products,” he explains. “We also handle lumber for the home improvement and construction sectors.”

Elliott adds that “Steel and other products for the solar industry have been one of our fastest growing breakbulk segments. High-and-heavy construction equipment pieces, many of which come from the region’s large industrial equipment auctions, are imported and exported through the port using our foreign trade zone.”

Port Tampa Bay has 500,000 square feet of transit shed space, over 5,000 linear feet of berth and over 100 acres of laydown area for breakbulk and project cargo. “We’re currently expanding laydown area at our new Eastport facility and are planning to construct up to 500,000 square feet of additional on-dock, transload warehouse capacity at our primary terminals on Hookers’ Point,” says Elliott.

Within the past year, logistics provider Glovis launched a new ro-ro service delivering automobiles manufactured in Mexico. And Ultrabulk provides regular breakbulk service delivering lumber from Northern Europe.

“While Port Tampa Bay is well known as Florida’s largest port, what really sets us apart is the diversity of our multiple lines of business,” notes Paul Anderson, President & CEO of Port Tampa Bay. “Breakbulk is a critical component of this diversification and an area we remain committed to expanding thanks to our abundant real estate holdings.”

Infrastructure Upgrades

For the fiscal year-to-date through May, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has handled 2.8 million tons of breakbulk cargo or eight percent of GPA’s 37.2 million tons of cargo handled during that time. Most breakbulk cargo for GPA falls under ro-ro, forest products and rubber.

Heavy-lift cargo is handled at the port of Brunswick, arriving by ro-ro vessel at the Colonel’s Island Terminal and loaded on rail or multi-axle, over-the-road chasses. To handle the heavy cargoes and accommodate heavy-lift cranes, GPA is improving the paving adjacent to its near-dock rail.

Additional infrastructure upgrades at Brunswick include replacing a 50,000-square-foot cargo shed at the Mayor’s Point Terminal with a new, 100,000-square-foot warehouse with up-to-date life safety improvements and flooring upgrades to handle heavier loads. The project will be completed in mid-September. The new warehouse will handle rubber imports.

In addition to rubber, GPA’s breakbulk cargoes include forest products and heavy equipment for farming and construction. The deepwater port of Brunswick is considered an ideal gateway for the import-export of breakbulk cargo, especially in light of the port’s easy connectivity to road and rail.

“GPA’s ability to handle breakbulk cargo is important for the authority and its customers because it adds options for logistics operators, delivering flexibility on routing, schedules and transportation costs,” says GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch.

To accommodate more ro-ro cargo carried by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, GPA is making improvements to the Colonel’s Island Terminal. Construction has started on 350,000 square feet of near-dock warehousing that will serve auto processing as well as on three additional buildings and 85 acres of auto storage space on the south side of the island. The improvements will grow annual capacity at Colonel’s Island from 1.2 million to 1.4 million units.

Epicenter of Offshore Wind

South Jersey Ports, which operates four marine terminals in three cities in southern New Jersey – two in Camden and one each in Paulsboro and Salem – specializes in bulk, breakbulk and project cargo and handles over four million tons of cargo annually. Main cargoes include wood products, cement, cocoa beans and steel.

Like other ports, South Jersey is also seeing the benefits of wind energy development. South Jersey Ports has been working with its partners to develop the infrastructure to become the epicenter of the offshore wind industry.

Paulsboro Marine Terminal will handle the monopiles for Ørsted’s Ocean Wind 1 offshore wind project. The project will require 98 monopiles, each weighing approximately 1,500 tons and standing almost 500 feet tall.

“The EEW Group is one of the world's premier manufacturers of monopiles, which are the foundations upon which the towers and wind turbines will sit,” explains Brendan Dugan, the port’s Assistant Executive Director & Chief Commercial Officer. “EEW is from Germany and has established an American affiliate (EEW AOS) at our Paulsboro Marine Terminal. They’ve already built Phase 1 of their manufacturing plant – a weld building and a coating building.”

He says that Phase 2, when complete, “will mean the entire manufacturing process from the importing of raw material and rolling the steel will all be done at EEW's manufacturing plant at our Paulsboro Marine Terminal.”

The port of Galveston is also a benefactor of the global push for green energy. The port has long been a major U.S. importer of wind turbine pieces. With the extension and increase in federal tax credits for wind energy projects, the port is once again seeing higher tonnages for this heavy-lift cargo. That trend is expected to continue.

“This is all good news for Galveston labor unions because breakbulk and ro-ro are hands-on cargoes requiring skilled labor,” says Executive Deputy Port Director Brett Milutin. “The port’s labor unions have years of experience in moving these specialized cargoes by crane from ships to trucks and rail.”

Galveston has also seen significant growth in ro-ro and breakbulk imports in the first half of 2023. Compared to last year, new vehicle tonnage is up 113 percent and ro-ro cargo has increased 10 percent.

Insuring Cargoes

While ports globally are developing strategies to insure clean air, shippers and cargo owners are looking for insurance of a slightly different nature – the kind that covers the value of their products against a multitude of scenarios that could cause harm during transit. So insuring cargoes is as vital as San Diego’s new cranes.

The upcoming Houston Marine & Energy Insurance Conference (Sept. 24-26) offers a venue to research insurance programs. The conference has attracted top talent in the marine, energy, insurance and admiralty law industries and has become the preeminent meeting place for the global marine and energy insurance business.

Steven Weiss, President of Steven P. Weiss Consulting Inc., has a vast background in ocean and inland marine insurance including over 32 years of experience as a marine surveyor, loss adjuster, direct insurance and reinsurance underwriter.

He offers a few tips when shopping for cargo insurance.

“Don’t just focus on cost,” he advises. “Your freight forwarder may tell you you’re covered under his liability policy, but that’s very limited coverage and you’re better off purchasing all-risk coverage though specific exclusions will probably apply. Don’t lie on the application. That’s not only insurance fraud but can make your policy canceled back to inception if it’s relevant to the loss. List all cargoes you expect to move, how much per year, how much per shipment. Do you need stock coverage? Expect to pay more than last year for catastrophic exposure coverage.”

He says different cargoes have different susceptibilities, and most cargo damage is due to inadequate packing. So it’s important to choose quality packers and freight forwarders: “Review their processes and procedures. Review and be a certificate holder on their liability insurance. Ship your cargo by the most appropriate method of transportation – truck, rail, barge, ship, airplane or the best combination. Use marine surveyors to assist in developing packing guidelines or how to improve in the event you’re having consistent losses.”

Sound words from an expert! 

Ports columnist Tom Peters writes from Halifax.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.