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Big changes at Port of Newcastle

By: Peter Gosnell
02 November, 2010

Feature of the week: It's called T4, short for Terminal Four, and (like its predecessors) aims to cash in on surging global demand for coal, while simultaneously shrinking the number of bulk coal carriers moored off the Port of Newcastle on any given day.

For suppliers to the materials handling industry, T4 means the Port of Newcastle continues to be a cornucopia of forward orders, with expansions and upgrades to existing coal handling facilities continuously topping up ledgers of work on hand.

It was only in May this year that stage one of Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group's (NCIG) Kooragang Island coal export terminal commenced operations, a billion dollar investment in rail sidings, a rail balloon loop, dumpstation, conveyors, stockyards, stacker-reclaimers, outbound conveyors, sample stations, wharves and shiploaders.

This boon saw materials handling suppliers provide six kilometers of conveyor systems, capable of handling more than 10,000 tonnes of coal per hour.

There were also two 45 metre high stacker reclaimers delivered, each weighing 45,000 tonnes, and a 1400 tonnes ship loader capable of stacking 10,500 tonnes of coal per hour.

The NCIG facility can load 30 million tonnes of coal per annum (mtpa) and the consortium's owners – half a dozen Hunter Valley coal mining companies headed by BHP Billiton – have capacity approvals to lift throughput to 66 mtpa. To this end, it has announced a stage two expansion – dubbed 2AA – to take the facility's capacity from 30mtpa to 53mtpa.

If this were all that was happening in the Port of Newcastle, suppliers would have reason for optimism.

But next door to NCIG, T4 developer and rival Port Waratah Coal Services Pty Limited, is evaluating the proposed T4 site, also located on Kooragang Island.

"The T4 project is still subject to engineering, environmental and operational investigations," PWCS general manager Graham Davidson told IndustrySearch.

"Given that the project will be subject to appropriate planning and environmental assessment, it is not possible at this stage to specify what T4's capabilities will be, how much it will cost and when it will be built. However, demand for coal from Newcastle is strong, which is why PWCS is advancing T4 feasibility work."

Davidson was less reticent about T4 in 2009, saying that the project could potentially handle up to 90 mtpa and would cost approximately $3 billion to build.

In June this year the PWCS board formally approved funding for a pre-feasibility study, confirming that the evaluation process was on track and saying "considering what we've learned so far, there is sufficient confidence in the T4 project to warrant PWCS undertaking a pre-feasibility study on T4."

Through its existing operations – the 25mtpa Carrington coal terminal, and the 88mtpa Kooragang Coal Terminal – PWCS can deliver 113mtpa of coal to the holds of ships charged with feeding the power stations and blast furnaces of Asia and beyond.

Beyond this, PWCS has existing approvals in place to lift capacity to 145mtpa, but a source who did not wish to be identified said that with PWCS and NCIG expanding current facilities, combined handling capacity of 180mtpa could be achieved by 2013.

"NCIG already has approval to go to 66 mtpa," the source said. How much capacity might be added by T4 is impossible to say.

Maybe, but for engineering and construction suppliers to the materials handling sector, it's a question cushioned by dollar signs.

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