Owensboro is a national leader in the storage of aluminum, Brian Wright, president of the Owensboro Riverport, said March 31.
He said there are three main hubs for aluminum storage in the United States — Toledo, Ohio; Baltimore and Owensboro.
Owensboro ranks so high because so much aluminum is produced in western Kentucky and southern Indiana, Wright said.
Last year, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March, manufacturing slowed to a crawl.
Many automakers closed in April 2020 and weren’t accepting metal shipments.
So, the smelters had to find places to store the aluminum they were producing.
And storage at the Owensboro port began to pick up.
This time last year, there was less than 200,000 tons of aluminum stored there.
Then, May 2020 set a monthly record with 55,000 tons of aluminum coming in for storage — 40,000 tons by rail and 15,000 by barge.
The previous monthly record had been 51,000 tons.
So, the riverport expanded its outdoor storage yard at a cost of $150,000, so it could handle even more aluminum.
By August, it was storing more than 300,000 tons of aluminum — worth more than half a billion dollars.
Wright said the peak was about $540 million worth when aluminum was selling for $1,800 a ton.
March 31, nearly 200,000 tons were still stored at the riverport.
And with aluminum selling for $2,231 a ton, it was worth about $450 million.
Wright said shipments from the riverport have been rising for the past three months as manufacturers ramp up production of goods.
In March, more than 30,000 tons of aluminum left the riverport bound for manufacturers.
More is going out than coming in these days.
By July, Wright said, inventory will likely be below 150,000 tons — about half of what it was at the peak.
He said in the past most of the shipments from the riverport went to companies within a 150-mile radius of Owensboro.
These days, it’s going to a 200- to 300-mile radius and some has even been shipped to California.
During the past year, metal came into Owensboro from Canada, New York, Washington, Missouri and other states to be stored until there was a demand for it.
Now, demand is picking up.
AutoBlog.com says U.S. auto sales last year dropped to 14.57 million from an average of 17 million in the years just before 2020.
Aluminum.org says the average car contains 362 pounds of aluminum and the average light truck contains 523 pounds.
So, as production of vehicles increases this year, more aluminum is needed.
Most businesses across the country were hard hit by the pandemic.
But the Owensboro Riverport found the silver lining behind the clouds.