Ports Are Aggressively Pursuing Creative Solutions to Make Their Operations More Environmentally FriendlyBy Tom Gresham
Seaports operate on the front line of climate change. Consequently, the port industry has proved ambitious in its attempts to take a leadership role on critical sustainability issues, often exceeding expectations and regulations while pushing for impactful and innovative new ways of operating. Through the use of advanced technology, creative problem-solving and strong collaborations with business partners and communities, ports are revolutionizing how to be environmental stewards.
“There’s a lot of appetite within the industry to do more and more,” said Christine Rigby, emissions specialist for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Ports have an important role to play in encouraging and facilitating early adoption and accelerated action, and I think you’re seeing them play it.”
Robert Peek, director of marketing and general manager of business development for JAXPORT in Jacksonville, Fla., said the appeal of an ambitious approach to sustainability is evident.
“Beyond the fundamental desire to be good stewards of our natural resources and the potential for cost savings, JAXPORT recognizes that globally there is a growing interest by individuals and companies to partner with businesses which are greening their supply chain,” Peek said. “In short, it is good for the environment and it is good business.”ADVERTISEMENTOpen advertisement in lightboxADVERTISEMENT CAPTION
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The burning of diesel fuel is a clearcut place for ports to strive to lower emissions. Mike Zampa, communications director for the Port of Oakland, said the port’s shorepower program has made a major impact on emissions during the past 10 years. Through the program, approximately 75% of ships calling at Oakland plug into the landslide power grid at berth and shut down diesel auxiliary generators.
“This has helped reduce ship emissions by nearly 80% over the last decade,” Zampa said.
The shorepower program for the Port of Vancouver (B.C.) has been in place since 2009 and helped eliminate nearly 21,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, Rigby said.
“We’re fortunate here in British Columbia that most of our electricity comes from low-emission hydroelectric sources,” Rigby said. “That means that anytime a vessel can shut down its engines and switch from diesel fuel to the grid, we see significant net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well as air quality contamination.”
JAXPORT, meanwhile, is the only port on the East Coast to offer on-dock and near-dock clean-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling capabilities for ships, Peek said, and four vessels homeported at JAXPORT are fueled by LNG. Those vessels include the world’s first two LNG-powered container ships, which are owned by TOTE Maritime, and the first two LNG-powered combination container/roll on-roll off vessels, which are owned by Crowley. In addition, two LNG liquefaction facilities were built in Jacksonville to fuel the vessels and another facility is in the works for the small-scale export of LNG, complementing the existing exports of ISO tanks of LNG now being shipped from Jacksonville to the Caribbean. JAX LNG is the first small-scale LNG facility in the United States with both marine and truck-loading capabilities and was constructed through a joint venture between Pivotal LNG and NorthStar Midstream.
“JAXPORT recognizes the environmental benefits of LNG both as a fuel for ships and an energy source for overseas partners,” Peek said.
PORT OF SEATTLE IS TAKING COMMAND OF STORMWATER MANAGEMENT
Four years ago, the Port of Seattle formed its own stormwater utility. The management of stormwater is a key part of the port’s responsibility in protecting Puget Sound. The port’s 1,560 acres of paved surfaces require the management of 1.2 billion gallons of runoff annually. The formation of the utility has allowed the port to increase investments to maintain and manage the stormwater system on its properties. The port is mapping every foot of its stormwater system, cleaning it as it goes, so by the end of 2019 the entire system will be mapped and assessed for all necessary repairs and upgrades.
Equipment and Vehicles
The forever bustling activity at ports depends on the constant operation of cranes and trucks, and ports are pushing to improve the environmental impact from that necessity. JAXPORT’s three newest container cranes are electric powered, and the port is rebuilding the dock infrastructure at its largest container terminal to accommodate additional electric cranes planned for the future. Meanwhile, the Port of Oakland’s largest marine terminal is converting 13 diesel-powered yard cranes to hybrid power. The move is expected to produce an annual 45-ton reduction in diesel-related air pollutants.
“The terminal operator, SSA Marine, saw an opportunity to effect significant environmental change while gaining cost efficiencies,” Zampa said. “Hybrid cranes are expected to reduce greenhouse gas and diesel particulate matter emissions by 95%. Meanwhile, the cranes will burn only a half-gallon of fuel per hour as opposed to 12 gallons per hour for the old diesel-powered models. Thus, the environment is improved while the business gains fuel cost savings. Everyone benefits.”
Efforts to reduce emissions from trucks at ports have led to the creation of clean truck initiatives. The Port of Oakland, for instance, implemented a program that has cut diesel emissions from big rigs by 95%, Zampa said, and the port is rapidly adding electric trucks. Similarly, the Port of Vancouver (B.C.) has established increasingly stringent environmental requirements since 2008 on container trucks that access the port, including a minimum truck engine age and retrofit requirements for older trucks.
In January 2019, The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which operates the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma, launched its Clean Truck Program, which established that drayage trucks entering the NWSA international container terminals must have a 2007 or newer engine or certified equivalent emission control system, reducing harmful emissions associated with older models. Nearly 4,000 trucks serve the NWSA, including many driven by owner-operators, and the NWSA worked with a host of entities to help provide incentives for the drivers who needed to make an upgrade – even working to change a state law in the process.
The vital importance of reducing emissions in the port industry has led many ports to develop ambitious strategic plans to target emissions on multiple fronts. In 2008, for instance, the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C. created the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy (NWPCAS), which established shared goals and targets for reducing emissions from port-related operations.
The NWPCAS ports’ most recent inventory in 2016 indicated they had lowered emissions of diesel particulate matter 80% while greenhouse gas emissions had dropped 19% per ton of cargo moved when compared to 2005. The improvement demonstrates the impact a concentrated effort – one the ports shouldered without requirement – can have.
“Voluntary efforts like the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy are important because they allow ports the opportunity to demonstrate and practice leadership on environmental issues, as well as stay ahead of regulatory pressures,” said John Wolfe, CEO of the NWSA.
Sandy Kilroy, maritime environment and sustainability director for the Port of Seattle, said the collective aspect of the NWPCAS has played an integral role in its success, as the ports have teamed to generate innovative ideas while inspiring each other.
RECYCLED CONSTRUCTION PRODUCTS CAN BE USED FOR DOCKS AND PORTS
William Jordan, senior vice president of commercial development for Axion Structural Innovations, said the port industry is searching to increase system resiliency in its infrastructure. Axion’s STRUXURE® Construction Products for docks and ports – including boardwalks, decking, curbing and fenders, among other products – are made of an industrial-grade structural composite that Jordan said is virtually impervious to the elements, meaning “they will not rot, warp, splinter, crumble, rust, absorb moisture or leach toxic chemicals into the environment.” In addition, the products are made of 100% recycled material, such as detergent or milk bottles.
“This kind of partnership really helps us push each other to work to make some big gains,” Kilroy said.
Partnerships with shipping partners also are essential to making real progress. Rigby said the Port of Vancouver (B.C.) provides incentives to encourage shippers, and she sees increasing interest “in partnering to create change.”
“We have an ‘EcoAction’ vessel incentive program,” Rigby said. “We’ve had that since 2007, and what this program does is it offers reduced fees to vessels that go beyond requirements to reduce their air emissions and their underwater noise. Related to the EcoAction Program, we have the Blue Circle Awards that are given out annually to the shipping lines that have the greatest level of participation in the program.”
Working with community partners also helps. “If a port can’t operate sustainably, with sensitivity toward its community, it can be thwarted in reaching business objectives,” Zampa said. “Community partnership is crucial to a port’s growth plans. Demonstrating environmental responsibility is key to partnership.”
Community collaborations often drive creative solutions. For instance, the Port of Seattle partners with local organizations to train local youth and adults as stewards of the port’s habitat sites. JAXPORT purchased a 2,000-acre tract of environmentally sensitive land in Northeast Florida as mitigation for an ongoing project to deepen Jacksonville’s main ship channel to 47 feet.
“JAXPORT has placed a permanent conservation easement on 600 acres of freshwater and 52 acres of saltwater wetlands,” Peek said. “JAXPORT then sold the remaining 1,400 acres to a local county government, which has publicly stated its intent to preserve this property, which is all located within a ‘Blueway’ corridor adjacent to the St. Johns River.”
Obstacles to Greater Progress
Port experts agree that costs and the availability of technology are the chief challenges to chasing new environmental gains. Wolfe said ports and their supply chain partners have aspirations that are racing ahead of the available resources.
“For many operational sectors that fall within the port’s sphere of influence, there have not yet been alternatives to conventional fossil-fueled equipment, vessels and vehicles, and where those do exist they are often up to two to three times more expensive or more,” Wolfe said.
In response to the need for research and development progress, the Port of Seattle has joined a partnership planning a Maritime Innovation Center that would serve as an incubator and business accelerator and a home for studying local environmental maritime issues.
“We want to spur entrepreneurial activity,” Kilroy said. “We feel that the maritime field is a hidden gem in terms of possible innovations and startups.”
Port officials say they will continue to push on sustainability issues through immediate challenges because of the potential ramifications.
“A big part of sustainability is resiliency and being able to adapt to future changes. If those future changes are climate-driven changes, then we don’t really have the luxury of looking at the short-term costs,” Kilroy said. “We need to build programs to address long-term changes and the potential effects on the business. Climate change really drives us to be innovative and think about how to improve our operations not just for now but for 30 years from now.”
PORTS ARE COMMITTING STAFF MEMBERS AND TEAMS TO ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES TO ENSURE AN EMPHASIS ON SUSTAINABILITY
A dedicated team in the Operations Service Center of The Northwest Seaport Alliance works with port users daily to improve efficiency, including measures to reduce truck idling. The service center is currently researching alternative technologies that can track port traffic and improve turn times.