Shipping Lines Cut Emissions to Save Cash

For many shipping lines, reducing diesel and carbon emissions is now as much a part of the industry’s culture as is reducing the cost of carrying cargo. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand.

“Sustainability is now a mega-trend,” Lee Kindberg, director of environment and sustainability at Maersk Line, told the Pacific Ports Clean Air Collaborative Conference in Los Angeles Thursday.

Container lines over the past decade have faced growing pressure to slash health-risk emissions and reduce their carbon footprint. Carriers and their customers formed the Clean Cargo Working Group in 2001, and although progress was slow at first, gains are coming more quickly now.

The group reports that since 2007 carriers have reduced fuel consumption per-TEU-per kilometer traveled by 14 percent. The goal is to reduce fuel consumption 25 percent by 2020, Kindberg said.
Improving fuel efficiency reduces emissions of health-risk pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide and particulate matter, reduces the carbon footprint and saves ocean carriers money. “It makes business sense,” she said.

While progress is evident, the industry still has a long way to go. The 2010 emissions inventory in Los Angeles-Long Beach shows that vessels by far generate more NOx emissions than any other transportation mode in the harbor, accounting for 53 percent of total NOx emissions.

That percentage will continue to grow as the ports achieve significant reductions from other sources. Truck emissions in Los Angeles-Long Beach, for example, are down more than 80 percent since 2008 because of the ports’ clean-truck programs.

Vessel operators can not succeed in their sustainability efforts by working alone. Terminal operators and carriers working together to reduce a vessel’s time at berth by 10 percent cuts vessel emissions by 3.5 percent. Fuel consumption is reduced, and the vessel operator can use the time saved in port to slow-steam toward the next destination, further reducing fuel consumption and pollution.

Cargo interests are also making sustainability a part of their corporate culture. A Maersk survey of 300 customers found that 41 percent regularly use sustainability in making their sourcing decisions, and 22 percent said they do so sometimes.

Switching from high-sulfur bunker to low-sulfur marine distillate fuel within 200 miles of the U.S. coast will become mandatory in August when the North American Emission Control Area takes effect under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization. Fuel switching will be costly, however. Kindberg noted that bunker fuel costs about $710 per ton, with marine oil selling for about $1,000 a ton.

-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at Follow him on Twitter @billmongelluzzo.

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