Bunbury docking into a new future

Bunbury Port – the main hub for WA’s booming alumina exports – is undertaking a refurbishment program to broaden its appeal to new exporters, cruise ships and infrastructure developers.

Darren Lambourn, General Manager of Albany and Bunbury Ports, says Bunbury has vast areas of vacant land available for development – a rare phenomenon for an inner-city port.

He says the State Government-owned authority plans a clean up of old infrastructure in the next year in Bunbury’s under-utilised outer harbour to improve public access and create a “blank canvas” for future developments, possibly including naval visits.

The port is close to Bunbury’s CBD and its outer and inner harbours straddle Koombana Beach, home to the city’s famous Dolphin Discovery Centre.

The export facility boasts wide roads, no traffic congestion, big laydown yards, and good channel access that can accommodate vessels up to Panamax size, Lambourn says.

“There are certainly lots of opportunities for development,” he said on a tour of the port attended by Business Pulse and CCI Chief Economist Rick Newnham.

US Chemical giant Albemarle is in talks with the port on whether Bunbury could be used to export lithium hydroxide from its yet-to-be-built lithium processing plant, to be sited at nearby Kemerton, he says.

Albemarle has said it plans to begin construction at Kemerton before the end of the year.

Aside from industrial customers, Lambourn believes there is potential for both naval vessels and cruise ships to berth at Bunbury once the outer harbour is refurbished.

Bunbury’s main industrial activity occurs in the inner harbour, which houses five berths, including two operated by Alcoa and Worsley Alumina for the export of alumina and the import of caustic soda.

Alumina, used to manufacture aluminium, accounts for about 65 per cent of the port’s shipping volumes.

Alcoa has flagged the potential upgrade of its facilities at Berth 4 to export large quantities of raw bauxite – the ore normally upgraded to alumina.

The plan would involve railing bauxite from Pinjarra to Bunbury and using a dedicated train unloader to transfer it to vessels anchored at Berth 4.

Also on the inner harbour is Berth 8, a multi-user facility where Southern Ports has recently carried out berth repairs and ship-loader upgrades.

The berth is used mostly to export woodchips, spodumene, silica sand and copper concentrate and mineral sands.

“It is good for smaller users, mostly small miners, so there are a lot of junior companies go through here as it gives them a good export option,” Lambourn says.

Spodumene concentrates, the raw material used to make lithium products, could be a growth area for Bunbury.

Lithium is going through boom times as WA miners strive to increase production to capture demand from the growing market for electric vehicle batteries.

Southern Ports comprises the ports of Albany, Bunbury, and Esperance with the majority of its 220 employees housed at Esperance.

However, it is estimated that an additional 12,000 trade jobs are supported by the three ports throughout regional WA.

While Bunbury is dominated by alumina, Albany’s trade is mostly grain (57 per cent) and Esperance iron ore (72 per cent).

WA Works is your go-to for updates on supply chain and major project news across five WA sectors — infrastructure, construction, energy, defence and resources.

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