The drive to net zero emissions continues with ports in the U.S. and around the world. The challenges are multi-faceted and there are a lot of moving pieces, and no one-size-fits-all solution. Each port must consider its own specific geographical and economic factors, among many other variables. Still, the relative speed at which net zero initiatives are occurring is a testament to the determination ports are demonstrating in an all-out effort to help the maritime industry go green.
Shore to Shore Green Corridors
Developing green shipping corridor routes is a relatively new concept that’s slowly gaining speed across the industry. The Clydebank Declaration, signed by 24 countries, including the U.S., was launched at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference. It incorporates a collective commitment from all signatories to establish at least six of these corridors by 2025. This development is supported by C40 Cities, a worldwide network of mayors, intent on taking urgent action needed to minimize the effects of climate change.
The Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Shanghai are leading the way, together with goods movement stakeholders and key carriers and cargo owners, in a world-first effort to develop a Green Shipping Corridor Implementation Plan Outline, which was announced earlier this year. The trans-Pacific green corridor lays the foundation for building a worldwide network of decarbonized ocean shipping lanes and making significant progress toward meeting global climate goals.
The partners will work on reducing emissions from port gate to port gate, including a specific focus on the shipping emissions produced enroute between the ports. “Reducing vessel emissions along the active Shanghai-LA route can have tremendous benefits,” said Teresa Pisano, Environmental Supervisor for the Port of Los Angeles Environmental Management Division. For example, a reduction in emissions by 10% during the transoceanic voyage is roughly equal to all ship emissions produced at the Port of LA in a single year.”
These initiatives support the Port of Los Angeles’ own goals, under the landmark San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, of transitioning all cargo handling equipment to zero emissions by 2030; all drayage trucks calling at the Port of LA to zero emissions by 2035; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and 80% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 2050, respectively.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) is also looking to help establish a green shipping corridor. “It is something that we’re very interested in doing,” said Port Director Bethann Rooney. “’ve had some conversations with partners in Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as in South America. We’re cautiously optimistic that we will be able to establish at least one green corridor early next year.”
Additionally, the Port of Seattle is exploring what a green corridor would look like for cruise routes from Seattle to Alaska. The Pacific Northwest to Alaska Green Corridor (PNW2AK) project will bring together stakeholders including the City and Borough of Juneau, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, several cruise lines, and other Alaskan communities, with the goal of achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions ships and operations on the much-plied routes between Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska.
Emissions Reduction Goals
While these initiatives are important and timely, Ports must still juggle emissions reduction while keeping pace with daily operations and market demand.
The PANYNJ’s Net Zero Roadmap lays out ambitious goals for achieving its net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The Port is looking not only at its own greenhouse gas emissions but those of its operators, facilities, and businesses. There are five areas the Port is focused on: truckers, railroads, ocean carriers, cargo handling equipment, and small harbor craft such as tugs, towboats, and ferries. This can be challenging for marine terminal operators as zero emissions cargo handling equipment still isn’t completely online, despite the availability of electric or alternative fuel-based options, not to mention, the immense infrastructure considerations they pose. “From a broad perspective, we’ve identified, for now, action items that are specific to electric as it is the only option that is available in some cases and tested right now,” said PANYNJ’s Rooney.
The Port is working with equipment manufacturers and looking proactively at alternative fuel sources as a means of alleviating potential infrastructure issues. Having to plug in several thousand yard tractors, for example, brings a whole set of issues that most ports are not prepared for in terms of the grid being able to support the amount of electric capacity that is needed in order to keep everything charged.
Determining where best to utilize electric equipment requires extensive evaluation. “We cannot end up in a position where the electrical equipment, for example, winds up slowing down operations and making operations less efficient and less productive,” Rooney explained.
Right now, the Port has a single shore power facility that supports its cruise terminal in Brooklyn, New York. The facility has been in place since 2016, costing $21 million to construct. It is managed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Port Authority’s lessee at the cruise terminal.
“Each vessel would need to spend about a million dollars to retrofit on-board the vessel to accept the shore power. Then the cost of the shore power is more than the equivalent of what the ocean carriers would spend to burn the ultra-low sulfur diesel while they’re in port,” explained Rooney. To offset this, the city of New York pays a subsidy to the ocean carriers to encourage them to use shore power. Rooney points out that while incentivization to plug in to shore power is a positive go-green initiative, it doesn’t mean the entire operation is green. “Plugging into the grid is only as good as the grid is producing green energy in the first place, which is not always the case.”
For instance, there is a premium cost for biofuel, “but when you look at the life cycle of the equipment and the cost of the biofuel relative to the cost of electric equipment, it is not such a bad proposition,” added Rooney. “There are a lot of moving parts to all of this, and we are exploring them concurrently with our terminal operators and stakeholders and the community that is supplying the technology, the equipment, the fuels.”
Rising Sea Levels
Another key climate change challenge for ports is sea level rise. Lessons learned play a critical part in how ports adapt. For instance, while it has been over a decade since Hurricane Sandy significantly damaged the PANYNJ, a lot of time, money, and effort has been invested into making the port’s critical infrastructure more resilient. As Rooney said, “You can’t elevate the ports out of the flood zones, so you have to take other measures in order to be resilient and deal with the climate change.”
Port Everglades is further addressing its sea level rise plan, thanks to a $32 million grant – the largest grant as part of Senate Bill 1954, the Governor’s Resiliency Initiative – that was signed into law in 2021. The Resilient Florida Infrastructure Grant funds have been earmarked for a critical bulkhead replacement project.
According to CEO and Port Director Jonathan Daniels, the money will initially address bulkhead replacements at Terminals 1, 2, and 3, located at the north end of the Port, and address a breakwater and bulkhead system that is part of the Port’s inner entrance channel. The cost of this first phase is expected to be approximately $90 million.
“It’s not only the opportunity to drive new sheet steel piles to be able to deal with the concrete caps,” said Daniels. “It’s also allowing us the opportunity to be able to elevate those caps as is necessary as sea level rise approaches.” The bulkheads will be designed based on a projection of 4.36 feet in sea level rise by 2095. Working alongside partners like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, Port Everglades and Broward County are planning for a future that is yet unknown, though science is leading the way in analyzing what’s to come.
Right now, king tides are already impacting how and when infrastructure upgrades are carried out, in order to minimize disruptions to vessel traffic. “On weekends, with some of the larger cruise ships, the amount of displacement of water causes the hydraulics and bathymetry to change during that period of time,” explained Daniels. “What we may do is work around that. It will be a long-term process. There are many times in this upcoming season we can anticipate when we have all eight terminals occupied. It’s great for business, but it’s very difficult when you’re trying to phase this type of system and minimize any type of impacts.”
When it comes to deploying shore power across Port Everglades’ eight cruise terminals, the cost is projected to be between $160 and $200 million, with initial construction anticipated to begin in 2025. “The timing of it really depends on how many terminals we do in that first phase as to how much design work is ultimately going to be necessary,” said Daniels.
The Port will have its challenges with infrastructure due to its geography. The initial phase will likely begin at Terminal 26, as there is a significant amount of conduit that already runs to it, which could be expanded to Terminals 25, 21, and 19. The bigger picture view also includes deciding on funding sources, working with cruise line partners, Broward County, and the public.
The commitment to environmental stewardship extends to Port Everglades’ deepening and widening project. The “Segment 4” project, a $44 million initiative, focuses on cleaning, seagrass preservation, and environmental improvements at West Lake Park, enhancing the local ecosystem. Additionally, the Port has three new energy-efficient super post-Panamax cranes on the way later this year, and plans to refit older Samsung cranes in order to standardize operations.
Further up the line, the federal government’s commitment, through its Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program to invest in green infrastructure across the country, will help speed adoption and implementation of electrification of port equipment, as well as the establishment of offshore wind infrastructure deployment, and critical planning around resiliency. AAPA has launched the POWERS Program to help Ports maximize these funds and drive the future of sustainability investments toward net zero emissions, while highlighting the growing demand for American energy exports.
Over the past few decades, a steadfast attitude of resiliency has been a common denominator across ports in the U.S. and around the world. That so many stakeholders are working together toward a future net zero state can only bode well for the industry, no matter how long it takes to achieve.