Ahead of the opening of a new bitumen modification facility in Port Botany, Roads & Infrastructure sits down with Puma Bitumen Australia’s General Manager, Phil Chirnside, to learn about the company’s capabilities and worldwide connections.
Australia’s road network length was calculated to be 877, 651 kilometres, in the BITRE – Australian Infrastructure Statistics Yearbook 2019.
According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, the first use of asphalt as a surfacing material in Australian road building dates back to 1890.
Crucial to the creation of asphalt is bitumen, a by-product of the crude oil refining process. In 2016, an Australian Road Research Board paper acknowledged that a number of Australian bitumen refineries had been closed or reduced to importation facilities.
With the majority of bitumen imported to Australia it is important to ensure the quality and security of bitumen supply continues to be strong. This is where Puma Bitumen comes in as a major supplier of bitumen to the road construction market in Australia.
Puma Bitumen is a division of Puma Energy, a global storage and supply specialist, providing energy solutions and related products to 47 markets around the world.
Puma Bitumen operates globally and has a presence in 19 countries. The business leverages on the global experience and connectivity of Puma Energy, to ensure the quality and security of its bitumen supply chain.
Phil Chirnside, Puma Bitumen General Manager for Australia, says demand for water-borne supply of bitumen is greater than ever. Puma Bitumen having the largest bulk bitumen shipping fleet in the world makes us one of, if not the, strongest supplier in this space.
“Around 93 per cent of bitumen globally is used in the construction of roads and only about 20 per cent of the circa.1500 crude oil types are suitable for the production of road quality bitumen, it is therefore a very specialised material,” Chirnside says.
“Because of our global reach we have strong relationships with reputable and reliable bitumen producing refineries around the globe. This adds to our overall strength in the supply chain, with our ships picking up bitumen from our refining supply partners around the world we can transport it economically and safely to our downstream markets.”
Puma Bitumen entered the Australian market in 2013 in Port Botany, Sydney. In 2015, the company acquired BP’s local bitumen assets, thus extending its importation and specialty bitumen production footprint to Townsville, Brisbane, Hobart and Melbourne.
Its newest terminal located in Kwinana WA, which came online in November 2018, is considered to be one of Puma Bitumen’s most advanced import and supply facilities.
Puma Bitumen’s global centre of bitumen expertise is based at its speciality facility in Altona, Melbourne that is also where their most recent product innovation, Olexocrumb, was developed.
Olexocrumb is a highly advanced hybrid binder, consisting of both SBS and crumb rubber, and was the recipient of AAPA’s 2020 award for innovation.
“The Australian road construction industry is highly reliant on the importation of bitumen. Bitumen in its refined form, that meets Australian specification when it reaches our shores, is one of the products we supply. Then we also have speciality binders which require the modification of bitumen to have higher performance characteristics,” Chirnside says.
At the tail end of 2020, Puma Bitumen will reveal its newly constructed Port Botany facility, which was specifically built to enable the production of both SBS as well as crumb rubber (CR) polymer modified binders (PMB).
“The new facility will allow us to grow our footprint, enabling us to offer the high quality speciality binders that we are known for producing elsewhere in Australia, to the New South Wales market,” Chirnside says.
He says the production of Puma’s modified binders in New South Wales will also have economic advantages for customers as the product is manufactured at source of feedstock, thus eliminating double handling costs. He says this also adds a degree of comfort in regards to quality assurance.
The company has been producing modified binders from its Brisbane, Townsville and Altona facilities since 2015 and recently introduced this product line to its Kwinana facility in WA. Plans to expand into the New South Wales market have been in place for many years.
“Credit is due to the contractors that build the vast road network in Australia, at times in remote locations and under highly challenging conditions. This is why our commitment and obligation is to ensure the bituminous products we manufacture and supply are of the highest quality, knowing they arrive on site on specification, regardless of how far they have travelled,” Chirnside says.
Puma Bitumen strives to go further for better performing roads. The team recognise that the unique challenges of the Australian environment, load stresses from road trains and other heavy vehicles require the performance of bitumen to be of the up-most quality.
He says the real end-users are the people that drive on the road, and quality roads save lives. Puma Bitumen makes use of its expertise and major shipping fleet to ensure Australia continues to receive high quality bitumen despite the changing landscape of the global bitumen market.
“In an ever-changing market we strongly maintain our position in the supply chain, safeguarding a reliable stream of quality bitumen over the long term, ensuring quality continues to prevail, and our valued customers continue to build better performing roads across Australia.”