The N.C. State Ports Authority has issued a request for proposals to design and build a major dry bulk export facility at the Port of Wilmington.

The facility would receive, store and transfer wood pellets to ships for transport to Europe, where they are used by utility companies as fuel in energy production.

Bids are due back Jan. 31 from nine pre-qualified teams from the Carolinas, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

The facility will be in operation in 2015, said Danny McComas, Ports Authority chairman and former Republican state representative from New Hanover County, Monday.

Material will be transported via truck and rail to the facility where it will be off-loaded, stored, and then exported via ocean-going vessels.

The project will be completed in three phases depending on demand, according to the request for proposals. The project will start with one supplier of pellets, though none has been signed yet, and the authority will pursue others, McComas said.

Phase 1 will develop a facility that will accommodate 1 million tons per year. The project is to be expanded to accommodate 3 million in other phases.

Phase 1 will consist of construction of new rail, unloaders, conveyors, storage domes, shiploader and all related infrastructure, according to the document. Two reinforced concrete domes, 191 feet in diameter, will store 37,500 tons each.

In Phase 2, two additional 175-foot-diameter domes would be added, each with a 37,500-ton capacity. Phase 3 would also add two domes with 37,500 tons of capacity each. No waterfront work is required under the contract, according to the ports authority.

The authority already has voted to award a contract worth up to $41.5 million to Barnhill Contracting Co. for a similar facility at the Port of Morehead City.