The Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority’s 53-ton lift Comansa tower crane unloads a barge full of supersacks filled with raw materials for new customer PRCO America Inc. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)
Ports & Terminals

New Paducah Port Customer Barges In Raw Materials

The Paducah-McCracken County (Ky.) Riverport Authority has its first new customer for its general cargo facility in years with PRCO America Inc., which has begun moving raw materials for refractory bricks via barge for the first time.

The riverport received its third shipment of 1,800 supersacks on February 23, Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority Executive Director Tim Cahill said. The shipments are brought from China to New Orleans in a bulk cargo vessel, then transferred to a barge and brought up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The riverport is located between  Mile 1.3 and 2.0 on the left descending bank of the Tennessee River, near its confluence with the Ohio River.

The port stores the bags and then trucks them for just-in-time delivery to PRCO’s manufacturing plant near Mayfield, Ky.

Revitalizing Paducah Port

With the agreement, PRCO has become the primary customer for the port’s general cargo berth, which had previously been underutilized, Cahill said.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Supported by a 2021 Port Infrastructure Development Program grant, the port is also in the midst of revitalizing its bulk yard for use by existing customers, which include Pine Bluff Materials, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel, Southern FS and Superior Graphite. The bulk yard services 31 counties in four states.

“We are rebuilding the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport for the next generation,” Cahill said.

Shipping Via Barge For The First TIme

The PRCO shipments contain minerals that are compressed using a 2,500-ton hydraulic press and heated to make the ultra-high-density ceramic bricks that line the inside of the furnace in a steel refractory, said Bill Porter, general manager of PRCO America. The brick lining keeps the molten metal from flowing out. When the bricks are 50 percent used, they are replaced with fresh bricks. Nucor Gallatin in Ghent, Ky., is a major customer, Porter said.

PRCO America was formed in 2008 in Pennsylvania. Originally, it imported finished goods from China, Vietnam and India in sea containers, which were then brought to various ports, including Vancouver and Los Angeles-Long Beach before being sent by rail to warehousing facilities in the Chicago, Ill., area.

PRCO bought an existing building to use as its plant in 2020. It processed its first bricks in August 2022 after the installation of an overhead crane and mixers, hydraulic presses, tempering ovens, mechanical presses and four robots. Finished refractory bricks have been shipped to seven different steel plants within the United States so far.

While the Mayfield plant currently employs about 18 people on one shift, Porter said the company plans to ramp up production, adding a second shift and another eight or nine employees this summer. That will require a barge shipment of supersacks roughly every month by the end of the year, he said.

The bricks PRCO has made from the barged-in raw materials have been received very favorably by all seven steel plants, Porter said. Additionally, he said, choosing to barge in the materials provides considerable cost savings.

“My experience is the longer you stay on the water, the cheaper it is,” he said.

Porter also noted that transporting the minerals via barge is a more environmentally friendly way of moving the products, compared to other modes of transportation.

A fourth shipment of the minerals is due into New Orleans within the next month to be barged to Paducah, with a fifth shipment waiting at the port in China and arrangements being made for a sixth shipment soon, he said.

“They have done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Porter said of the Paducah riverport. “They have been a perfect partner. We’ve been fortunate to find somebody like that to work with.”

PRCO also sees room for potential expansion of barged shipments along the river. Porter noted that PRCO’s plant is centrally located among several customers who are producing steel or have made announcements to build steel plants.

Many of those plants, like Nucor Gallatin, are also located along the inland river system. In 2020, Nucor Gallatin received a $434,136 Marine Highway grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) to support expansion of service between Nucor Gallatin and the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville. The same year, MarAd awarded a $2,363,800 grant for construction of a marine terminal at Nucor Brandenburg.

Marine Highway Effectiveness

Cahill said the port’s arrangement with PRCO to receive and store its raw materials for the new Mayfield plant is a perfect example of the effectiveness of moving products via marine highways like the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. While the PRCO agreement with the port is not part of a grant-funded project, it has the same goal as the United States Marine Highway Grant Program of shipping products by the inland waterways that were once moved primarily by rail or truck, increasing safety and decreasing costs.

Caption for top photo (click on image for full photo): The Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority’s 53-ton lift Comansa tower crane unloads a barge full of supersacks filled with raw materials for new customer PRCO America Inc. (Photo by Shelley Byrne)