Great Lakes vessels transport vital raw materials and commodities that support the region’s industries and farmers. They also play a unique role in safely transporting over-sized cargo, such as wind turbines and machinery, that would otherwise have a much longer journey on our congested motorways. Products transported by vessel fall into five broad categories.
Bulk cargo includes any product that is loose and unpackaged. Typical bulk cargoes transported on the Great Lakes - Seaway System are described below.
Iron ore is the principal raw material used in steel making. In the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region iron ore is mined in northern Minnesota, the upper peninsula of Michigan and in northern Quebec and western Labrador. From these locations, the ore is railed to nearby ports and transported by vessel to steel making facilities throughout the region - generally in Indiana, Michigan, Ontario and Ohio.
Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock formed by partial to complete decomposition of vegetation. It is primary used as a solid fuel to produce electricity and heat. Coal is also used to produce coke, which serves as a heat source and reducing agent in the steel making process. Coal transported on the Great Lakes is mined in a variety of locations including Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. From these locations the rock is transported by rail and ship to power generation facilities and industries throughout the region.
Salt is a mineral composed of sodium chloride. Often used as a seasoning or food preservative, salt is also used in cold-weather regions to de-ice roadways by lowering the freezing temperature of water. Salt is mined throughout the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region including Ontario, Michigan and Ohio. From these locations the mineral is broadly distributed by vessel to be used by municipal, state and provincial road maintenance agencies.
Cement is a soft, fine, powdery material used as a binder. When mixed with water, sand and gravel, it forms a hard solid material called concrete. Cement is made by heating crushed limestone, sand and clay in large, rotating kilns. Cement is produced in numerous locations throughout the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region including Michigan and Ontario and transported by ship to local markets for use - primarily by the construction industry.
Limestone is a mined sedimentary rock largely composed of calcium carbonate. While limestone blocks are a popular building material, most limestone transported by ship on the Great Lakes - Seaway system is crushed and used as an aggregate in the construction industry. For example, aggregate limestone is commonly used as a base or foundation material for road building. Crushed limestone is also a key ingredient in the manufacture of cement and is used as a purifying agent in the blast furnaces of Great Lakes steel mills. Limestone is quarried in Ontario, Michigan and Ohio and distributed by ship to markets throughout the region.
While a de minimis amount of crude oil is transported by water in the Great Lakes region, a variety of petroleum products are produced at refineries in the region and transported to market by Great Lakes vessels. These products include gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, and asphalt. Regional oil refining is concentrated along the St. Clair River near Sarnia, Ontario; however additional refineries are located in Superior, Wisconsin; Whiting, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; Nanticoke, Ontario; and Montreal, Quebec. From these locations, product is distributed to storage facilities at numerous Great Lakes ports where secondary distribution typically occurs by truck.
Gypsum is a common mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate and used for a variety of purposes including the production of construction materials such as drywall. Gypsum transported by vessel on the Great Lakes - Seaway System originates in Michigan and is distributed by ship to markets throughout the region.
Potash is a term referring to a variety of mined products all containing potassium and generally used as agricultural fertilizers. Most potash transported on the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence system originates in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and is railed to the Port of Thunder Bay (Ontario) from where it is distributed by ship to markets throughout the region.
Wheat is a type of grass plant that produces a grain that can be ground or milled into fine white flour used in the production of a variety of food products, including bread and pasta. The United States is the third largest producer of wheat in the world, and Canada is the sixth largest producer. In the Great Lakes - Seaway region, wheat is grown in every state and province for both domestic consumption and export. Within the Great Lakes, export wheat cargo is concentrated at the ports of Thunder Bay, Ontario; Duluth, Minnesota; Superior, Wisconsin; and Toledo, Ohio. From these locations, wheat is either directly transported overseas by ocean-going ships, or is loaded onto Lake vessels to trans-shipment ports along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. From Quebec larger vessels then carry the cargo to overseas destinations.
Corn is a tall grass plant that produces large grains or kernels used in the production of thousands of products including human and animal food products, industrial products, and fuel ethanol. In the United States corn production is centered in the Midwest, particularly in the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. In Canada corn production primarily occurs in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Soybean is a species of legume plant that produces a high protein bean used in the production of a variety of products such as vegetable oils, meat and dairy substitutes, animal feeds, biodiesel fuel, industrial lubricants, paints, soaps and detergents. Soybean is grown throughout the Great Lakes region and exported to overseas markets.
Breakbulk cargo includes any product that is packaged, but not containerized. Typical breakbulk cargoes transported on the Great Lakes - Seaway System are described below.
A variety of steel products are regularly imported into the Great Lakes - Seaway system on ocean going vessels. These products often originate in Europe or South America and include steel coils, steel slabs, steel bar, and steel pipe. These products arrive at Great Lakes - Seaway ports and are either distributed to local suppliers for use in manufacturing and construction, or receive additional value-added processing such as rolling, stamping, pickling or coating.
Project cargo includes any product that is of a unique or awkward dimension, shape or weight and generally difficult to transport by other means. Common project cargoes transported on the Great Lakes - Seaway System are described below.
Machinery & Equipment
The Great Lakes region is surrounded by heavy industry. Construction of refineries, steel mills, and manufacturing facilities often include large industrial components imported to the region from elsewhere in North America or from overseas. For example, western Great Lakes ports receive delivery of large equipment destined for oil sands development projects in Alberta.
Wind Energy Components
As the United States and Canada move toward expanded use of renewable energy, numerous wind energy projects have been constructed or are on the drawing boards throughout the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region. These components often originate in Europe and include windmill mast sections, windmill blades and windmill nacelles (the energy generating hub). Due to the large and awkward size of these components, transportation by water is the most efficient and least disruptive option.
Containerized cargo includes any product transported in a standardized, steel, intermodal shipping container. Containerized cargo in the Great Lakes-Seaway system is mostly concentrated at the Port of Montreal. Very little of such cargo moves by vessel west of Montreal into the Great Lakes.