Restoring supply: Puma Bitumen revitalises facility for manufacture of PMBs

Puma Bitumen is breathing new life into a bitumen manufacturing plant in Melbourne’s southwest, establishing it as a leading facility for the production of high-quality Polymer Modified Bitumens in Australia.Opened in 1991 by BP Bitumen, the Altona Manufacturing Facility in Melbourne’s southwest is a state-of-the-art bitumen and emulsion plant, complete with a research, development and quality control lab to support the bitumen manufacturer’s national operations.

It came to be an important supply point for PMBs to the Victorian and surrounding markets, until BP decommissioned the facility in July 2013.

Four years on, the facility has undergone a major facelift and is poised to re-enter the market thanks to significant investment by its new owners – Puma Bitumen Australia.

“When we acquired the BP Bitumen business back in August 2015, we saw that this site, which had been in mothballs for a long time, was a high-value and industry-leading asset,” explains Tim Gander, Puma Energy National Bitumen Manager.

Puma’s Australian bitumen operations began in 2013 when it acquired the Caltex Bitumen business in Sydney, NSW. This was followed closely by its acquisition of the BP Bitumen business and assets, which expanded the firm’s Australian portfolio further.

The acquisition soon placed Puma as one of the largest bitumen suppliers in the country – it now owns and operates former BP sites in Brisbane, Townsville, Hobart and Altona, supplemented by the existing Sydney operation and construction of an import facility in Kwinana, Western Australia.

The Altona Manufacturing Facility, officially reopened in March this year, is another example of the company’s commitment to the Australian road industry. The once disused site comprises state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and Puma’s National Technical Centre.

“In BP’s mind, there wasn’t an economic way to support the market, given the absence of affordable base-grade bitumen and they decommissioned the facility. However, to their credit, they did invest a lot of money into constructing a quality asset and it remains a leading facility capable of producing high-quality products for the southeast market,” says Mr. Gander.

Part of the decision behind recommissioning the facility was due to the high-end manufacturing equipment, but more importantly, the reintroduction of the highly sought-after OLEXOBIT range into the Victorian market and expanding Puma’s national supply capabilities.

Puma had established its National Technical Centre at the Altona site when it acquired BP’s operations, but Mr. Gander says it took a while to find an economical solution to justify reopening the manufacturing side of the plant.

“All of the lab and design facilities were already being used, but there was this fantastic asset sitting unused at the back of the facility,” says Mr. Gander.

“The quality of the asset really drives the quality of the end product. BP had invested in high-end technology and as a result, the mixing capabilities of that equipment can’t be matched anywhere else in the market.”

Seeing the opportunity to utilise this existing technology and reintroduce high quality OLEXOBIT PMBs at a greater production rate to the market across Victoria and further afield, Puma commenced with an extensive refurbishment of the plant.

“There was quite a lot of due diligence involved when we took over the assets, but I started to look at recomissioning the site the day we acquired the business,” explains Mr. Gander.

“Nobody really knew the state of the plant after four years out of operation until we sent our team in. The equipment itself was in pretty good condition. However, the electrics and heating system needed extensive work.”

The reinstatement of the manufacturing facility took roughly 12 months to complete from the initial assessment through to first production.

“Ultimately, it was a high-value asset that was sitting there unused. Twofold, it helps us to expand and support our national footprint and provide our key customers with high quality OLEXOBIT PMBs,” says Mr. Gander.

The facility has a PMB production capacity of around 20,000 tonnes per annum, but also the capability to produce high-quality bituminous binders incorporating crumb rubber derived from end-of-life tyres. Not only will this help support Victoria’s objective to reduce potential environmental and health risks association with the waste product, but it supplies the market with a product increasing in use and demand.

“Crumb rubber was a big step change for BP and Puma has recognised the increasing demand for recycled products in the industry today,” he says.

Mr. Gander explains that the reopening of the manufacturing site not only supports its national footprint and key customers, but the road authorities too.

“It’s breathing new life into the site,” he says. “From an industry point of view we’re seeing stronger programs of work that need to be delivered. What this reopening does is let the road authorities know that the high-quality product is there and available in large supply. Greater sense of supply security means they can commence with larger road projects sooner.”

Mr. Gander agrees that the fact that such a significant bitumen manufacturing facility is being reopened rather than shut down signals a positive shift in the road construction market.

The facility was officially reopened at the beginning of March this year in an event attended by industry, stakeholders and local government, including Luke Donnellan, Victorian Minister for Roads and Road Safety and Minister for Ports.

Ray Taylor, Puma Energy Australia General Manager, notes the significance of the new facility, not only for Puma, but for the wider industry too.

“The reopening of the Altona Bitumen Manufacturing Facility marks an important milestone for Puma Energy and the road construction and maintenance industry,” he says.

“The facility, which has undergone extensive refurbishment, is now in full production, delivering the highly sought-after OLEXOBIT PMB range back into the Victorian market.

“We’re proud to be the nation’s largest supplier of bitumen to the road construction and maintenance industry and are committed to investing in similar facilities across the country to support the Australian road industry.”

Mr. Gander says the recommissioning of the Melbourne site has been a significant milestone for the company, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Puma is now investing more money into its Pinkenba terminal in Queensland and its Mascot-based facility in New South Wales to upgrade each site’s capabilities to help supply these markets programs of work.

“We’re also shifting the focus to our Western Australian facility to improve its supply capabilities to the market over there, and even our Hobart operation is getting some love,” says Mr. Gander.

“The Altona facility is just a one step investment for Puma, and part of the bigger investment into Australia.”

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