What Will Ports Look Like in the Future?

Ports across the country are strategically planning to lead the way in emerging technologies, sustainability guidelines and energy

By Kathy A. Smith

The push for ports to evolve as technologically-advanced entities that adhere to increasingly strict environmental protocols while providing cost-effective and efficient service to their customers is no small task.

But the job has become easier thanks to a 2011 initiative that brought together seven West Coast ports the Ports of Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Los Angeles, Vancouver US, San Diego and Long Beach which collaborated with the International Institute for Sustainable Seaports (I2S2) to produce the West Coast Ports Sustainable Design and Construction Guidelines.  I2S2 is a collaboration between the AAPA and the Global Environment & Technology Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not for profit.

Based on a “beyond compliance” mindset, the guidelines, which were published (available free online) in April this year, focus on the design and construction phases for major port infrastructure projects, and although specific to West Coast Ports, are flexible for use by ports around the country.

The collaborative approach has not only forged camaraderie amongst peers but has substantially reduced the costs involved. Instead of each port hiring their own consultant, the group pooled their investment in order to work together. “If we hadn’t collaborated like this, we wouldn’t have had the interaction and the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from each other,” says Tim VanWormer, senior marine planner for the Port of Portland.

The resulting Guidelines offer an easy-to-use excel-based tool which contains over 250 sustainability best practices that are broken down by focus areas, e.g. Air, Public Outreach, Water, and by port project such as Wharf, Transportation (rails, bridges) and Renewable Energy. Users are able to customize the guidelines to include individual port sustainability requirements and/or policies in addition to the master list of sustainable guidelines. They are aimed at port program managers in particular, enabling them to now fully track projects in these key areas.

The development of the WCPTC has coincided with I2S2’s initiative on a worldwide scale; two research papers funded by the Port of Portland, resulted in providing a greater awareness and understanding of how ports sustainably manage their operations and development (Environmental Initiatives at Seaports Worldwide: A Snapshot of Best Practices, published in 2010) and an assessment of current environmental management initiatives at ports and the ability to gauge change (if any) in the advancement or decline of sustainability efforts, as demonstrated by a limited sampling of ports around the world (2013 Update Environmental Initiatives Worldwide: A Snapshot of Best Practices).

A major finding in the first white paper and reinforced in this recent research, is that each port no matter where it is located, has a unique set of geographic, political, community, operational, regulatory and financial circumstances that shape and define its environmental and sustainability initiatives. Therefore, each port has taken a slightly different approach to environmental initiatives, based on their unique circumstances.

The majority of ports realize that it’s necessary to change the traditional way of developing the infrastructure required to meet business demands. Still there are similar challenges for all. “This doesn’t stop competition. It’s all about looking at the bigger picture,” says Noeleen A. Tillman, executive director of I2S2. “If we come together as a group and are able to create a tool that we can use based on our goals and needs as individual ports, why not do that?”

The new tool brings a new approach to port projects, enabling ports to get ahead of the curve and look at what’s economically feasible and what will work from an environmental perspective that the community will also support. Now project managers have a checklist of ideas and best practices.

“There is consensus that we should have a common language and that we need to share the best practices so the maritime industry gets the best projects possible to promote the industry,” adds VanWormer. “Ideally in the future, we’ll have a design notebook that would provide detailed information on lifecycle costs for each of the one-sentence best practices in the checklist. However, this will depend on reaching a consensus with the west coast group on whether to undertake this effort.”

In the 2013 global paper update, air quality and storm water management were cited as the two major areas where ports have placed significant resources over the past few years and dredging programs from channel deepening and maintenance, have meant the need for more creative mitigation and stewardship of natural resources.

The current research also demonstrates that ports continue to make significant, measurable progress on environmental goals. Many ports reported achieving their annual targets on water conservation, energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling over the past three years, and the majority of ports having some kind of “GreenPort” or sustainability program in place with regular public reporting on those green initiatives. All this forward-thinking activity looks promising as ports adopt new technologies ahead of future demands.

In the U.S., the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach are often seen as the leaders in this area, but as Richard D. Cameron, managing director of environmental affairs and planning for the Port of Long Beach says, “Other ports don’t have to take the one-size-fits-all route or do exactly what we’re doing. What this does for our industry is help our customers who call on all ports across the nation see how they can invest in new technologies.”

Building on the success of the San Pedro Clean Air Action Plan, implemented by both ports in 2006, which has resulted in between 85-90 percent reduction in diesel particulate matter, zero or near-zero emissions is the ultimate goal at the terminals, which is why the Port of Long Beach has engaged in an all-electric terminal project.

This step is part of what Cameron sees as a looming industry paradigm shift. “We’re developing a strategic energy program right now that’s port-wide,” he says. “We’re going to be linking that program with future environmental strategies that will provide a co-benefit of systems connecting ports. That’s where I see the next evolution in combining the environmental front with energy as well as transportation, infrastructure and systems. They won’t be addressed in silos anymore.”

Phase I of the Port of Long Beach’s Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project will be launched in October 2015. At that time, at least half of the terminal will be all-electric, offering shore power to vessels. Electric gantry cranes will load and unload boxes, automated guide vehicles will move them to the appropriate rows and electric RTGs will stack them, with clean diesel chassis trucks picking up the boxes and going out of the gate.

“We’ll have to have a robust electrical system and resilient system in place to ensure that on a daily basis, we won’t be affected by a brown-out because utilities have issues with generation or the grid within the region,” says Cameron. “We also want to learn from natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy.”

Currently, the Port of Long Beach has initiated a comprehensive land-use study that will be looking at the infrastructure of where the terminals will be located and how they will operate. “We want to make sure that we fully understand when and how these systems will be put in place so we can work with those stakeholders now about the future,” adds Cameron. “We don’t want to be caught in reactive mode. When new technologies or new strategies come along, we want to have a place where we can input them into the right slots for our planning purposes.”

The ability for ports to provide a “department store of choices” to their customers seems to be the next evolving trend.

“There is a host of environmental services and fuel choices that ports now need to be considering in order to remain competitive and many are reaching out to their tenants or third parties like fuel providers to explore what it’s going to take,” says Cliff Gladstein, President of Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, Clean Transportation & Energy Consultants. “When considering fuel choices, economics is always the key, followed closely by regulatory drivers and it just so happens that right now, natural gas is both inexpensive and cleaner on the pollutants of concern.”

Technology that has helped create the unconventional gas boom has significantly altered the energy landscape. In the marine sector, this creates the opportunity to convert vessels to natural gas and get a good return on that investment. “For instance, if a Jones-Act vessel that consumes 10 million gallons of fuel a year converted to natural gas today, the investment could be returned to the owner in the reduced fuel costs in two or three years. Since we don’t anticipate there will be upward pressure on natural gas prices until the US is exporting significant volumes of LNG, the risk associated with this investment is greatly diminished.”

As concurrent efforts to develop LNG policies and protocols continue for the industry, a key issue now being raised is how to manage loading/unloading operations while simultaneously bunkering the vessel.

“The US Coast Guard has left the decision on allowing SIMOPS up to individual Captains of the Port, which does create some uncertainty,” says Gladstein. “Technologically, it’s relatively simple, but it’s on the regulatory front where marine LNG is facing some of its most significant challenges.”



The West Coast Ports Sustainable Design and Construction Guidelines can be downloaded from the AAPA’s website (www.aapa-ports.org) under the “Programs & Events” tab.