Simple Guide for Shipping Bulk Chemicals – Helping You Craft a Transportation Plan
- December 09, 2021
Whether you routinely need to ship raw materials, a final product, or both, bulk shipping could be an invaluable differentiating factor for your chemical business.
Still, transporting in bulk carries its own challenges and risks that you’ll need to account for.
Use this guide to find the right shipping partner and to craft a transportation plan for your company that’s safe, compliant, and profitable.
What Qualifies as Bulk Chemicals?
Although individual companies may define “bulk” differently, the federal government provides an exact definition for registration purposes that serves as an industry benchmark. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration lays it out in the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR)…
“A bulk packaging is a packaging, other than a vessel or a barge, with (1) a maximum capacity greater than 450 liters (119 gallons) as a receptacle for a liquid; (2) a maximum net mass greater than 400 kilograms (882 pounds) and a maximum capacity greater than 450 liters (119 gallons) as a receptacle for a solid; or (3) a water capacity greater than 454 kilograms (1000 pounds) as a receptacle for a gas.” – 49 CFR 171.8
Why Ship Chemicals in Bulk?
These are some of the benefits of shipping in bulk:
How Are Bulk Chemicals Transported?
Bulk chemicals are typically shipped in one of three ways: by tanker truck, railcar, or cargo ship.
Bulk tanker trucks can be used to transport liquid chemicals, free-flowing dry solid chemicals, and even compressed gas. Typically made of stainless steel or aluminum, tanker trucks may hold up to 7,000 gallons across anywhere from one to four compartments. They can be insulated and even heated to defend against temperature, if that is a concern of the shipper.
Railcars are particularly well-suited to transporting bulk shipments such as chemicals because of their high volume capacities and availability of tank cars designed to carry chemicals. In fact, chemicals are one of the three most common groups of goods to be transported by rail, along with coal and grain. Railcars have the added benefit of being lower emitters of greenhouse gases than trucks.
Marine shipping, or ocean freight, predates both railroads and tanker trucks but is still by far the most popular means of transportation for goods in the world. When it comes to bulk shipping for unpackaged materials such as chemicals, you’ll need to use special containers designed specifically for chemicals. For example, you may need a refrigerated container, a dangerous goods (DG) container, or an organic peroxide container that designates the contents as a fire hazard.
Important Considerations When Transporting in Bulk
When shipping in bulk, the twin priorities are to get your chemicals where they need to be safely, and in compliance with all regulations. To ensure you do both, remember the following:
Know Your Chemical
Your bulk carrier needs to know what he’s hauling not only to ensure the health of your chemical, but the integrity of his equipment and the safety of the public. This may also affect the procedures for loading and unloading safely. Relevant details include:
- Basic information, such as the chemical’s state (dry vs. liquid, raw vs. finished), whether it’s hazardous (see below), and safe temperature ranges;
- Physical and chemical properties, such as pH level (affects the type of tank or container), density (affects the number of trucks or containers required), and viscosity (affects the loading/unloading methods);
- Scale information, aka whether the driver will need to take the shipment to be weighed.
Use the Right Transport
Armed with the above information–much of which may be found on the SDS (safety data sheet)–you and/or your transport provider can determine the appropriate medium to ship in.
Generally, one of four types of tanks or tank trailers is used for bulk chemicals, each best for different applications:
- General-purpose/steel (no special care required)
- Rubber-lined (for corrosive chemicals)
- Fiberglass-reinforced plastic (for hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, and bleaches)
- Aluminum (for petrochemicals)
Take Extra Care Transporting Hazardous Chemicals
Shipping bulk HazMats (hazardous materials) introduces many more layers of complexity beyond everyday chemicals. Carriers will need greater insurance coverage, for one, and there are numerous rules and regulations instituted by various agencies such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
These cover the mandatory inspections, safety permits, placarding, and licensing the carrier must see to, among other requirements.
An exhaustive list of HazMat regulations would be much too long for this article, but it may not be necessary for you to know them all.
Read our guide on how to stay compliant when shipping hazardous chemicals for more information.
But it is important to know that your chosen carrier is in good standing. You can check to make sure a HazMat carrier has up-to-date registration with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) by searching the agency database.
For more on vetting your carrier, see below.
Training your employees in HazMat handling and packaging your HazMats safely are two important considerations, as well. The DOT requires anyone who physically handles HazMats to receive safety training in emergency response, protection measures to protect from exposure, and how to avoid accidents.
Acquire Proper Documentation
Transporting chemicals internationally and even within the U.S. requires documentation, whether state permits, a NAFTA Certificate of Origin (for shipments to and from Canada), a bill of lading, or a dangerous goods declaration.
These documents need to be prepared prior to departure or else you risk shipping delays and fines for both you and your transportation partner.
Choose a Reliable Transport Partner
A dependable transportation partner will be insured, knowledgeable, flexible, responsible, and certified. Gauging some of these qualities can be difficult until you’ve worked with a carrier a little while; positive referrals from industry peers you trust can be a huge help.
For some hard-and-fast data, you can use the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) portal to review a carrier’s safety rating, out of service rates, licensing and insurance types, violation history, and more.
Don’t assume a carrier is unqualified because they have one or two minor violations; a few “dings” are not uncommon. Research several candidates and compare their scores in CSA and use that as a jumping-off point to call one and start a relationship.