Drewry Shipping Consultants estimates the international shipping industry contributes about 3.3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, part of an enormous impact from global freight transportation that most experts expect to grow even as efforts to curb emissions spread across the industry, from operators to their shipping customers.
For vessel operators, the efforts have largely focused on operations on the water, including measures such as slow-steaming that limit fuel consumption to A.P. Moller-Maersk’s announcement this month that it is working with an engineering firm and universities to develop biofuels made from organic waste.
But the shipping industry’s most visible impact comes not out in the ocean but at ports, where they spend only some 5 percent of their time but toss emissions into the air that contribute a large share of their overall impact and the largest share of the attention from communities near port terminals.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have served as the transportation industry’s laboratory for pollution reduction from trucks, and now the ports are focusing on vessel emissions.
When the ports in 2010 updated their joint Clean Air Action Plan, tests showed oceangoing vessels accounted for 60 percent of the diesel particulate matter, 43 percent of the nitrogen oxide and 24 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the harbor area. Most disturbing for the operators is that their share of total port pollution is increasing, while emissions from trucks, once the largest source of pollution, are rapidly declining. The ports’ clean-trucks programs have reduced harbor drayage emissions by more than 80 percent since 2008.
Los Angeles and Long Beach believed the CAAP had a solution for at-berth pollution when they established a requirement for container terminals and liner companies to phase in the use of shore-side electrical power to operate a vessel’s vital functions while the ship is at berth.
The cold-ironing, or “AMP,” requirement was extended statewide when the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation for phasing in shore-side electrical power beginning in 2014. In a twist on the regulatory path, however, the attention to the problem and the need to reduce shore-side emissions is prompting growth in a new type of entrepreneurship in the region, drawing companies that are developing, and testing, alternative measures for reducing pollution.
The companies, such as Advanced Environmental Group of Carson, Calif., are convinced their products are more efficient than shore-side electrical power in reducing emissions from vessels at berth, and are much less costly to install and operate.
AEG President Ruben Garcia said the Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System can eliminate twice the emissions at one-third the cost of installing shore-side electrical power. The company’s assertions must be verified by CARB, however, if shipping lines and terminal operators are able to receive credit for adopting AMECS. Also, rather than purchasing the product, a shipping line or terminal operator can lease a unit for $588,000 to $1.5 million a year, Garcia said.
AEG is preparing to test the AMECS system, which involves lowering a “bonnet” over a vessel’s smokestack, capturing the emissions and running them through a scrubber system on shore or on a barge. The test will begin soon in Long Beach, and Garcia believes AEG will achieve CARB verification this summer.
Shipping lines are interested in the results because equipping vessels and marine terminals with cold-ironing capability is expensive. Ocean carriers say it can cost $2 million to retrofit an existing vessel, and up to $1 million if the capability is included in the design of a new vessel. Carriers operate at least five vessels in a trans-Pacific service. It can cost $5 million to equip a container terminal with electrical infrastructure and switchers.
Although the carriers stress they aren’t against the effort to reduce dock-side emissions, the industry has been quietly unhappy that CARB and the ports mandated a specific technology rather than letting the private sector develop a more efficient system. Generally, under the federal Clean Air Act and state clean-air rules, CARB and the Environmental Protection Agency encouraged private sector innovation by setting standards and timelines for achieving those standards rather than mandating technologies, said T.L. Garrett, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. “It has worked incredibly well,” he said.
CARB’s proposed shore-side power requirements gave the industry an opt-out provision to begin incorporating alternative technologies into their fleets by 2010. Any new technology must be verified by CARB, however, and no other product has been verified as meeting the agency’s requirements for pollution reduction.
Maersk Line was the only major carrier to exercise the opt-out provision. As the world’s largest container line with global operations, Maersk cited the problems inherent in developing cold-ironing capabilities for the only port complex in the world with such a requirement for container lines.
“Vessels travel the world,” said Lee Kindberg, Maersk’s director of environmental sustainability in North America. She also noted vessels introduced in one trade lane may later be moved to another and replaced by larger, more modern vessels. “Redeployments do happen,” she said.
Maersk has been implementing technologies involving more efficient engines, cleaner-burning fuels, selective catalytic reduction, scrubbers and other technologies that reduce pollution from vessels in transit as well as at berth. “We prefer environmental enhancements that travel with the vessel,” Kindberg said.
APL last year introduced cold-ironing at the Port of Oakland, launching a program to have five of its vessels switch off auxiliary diesel engines and connect to a landside power grid. APL said it spent some $11 million to retrofit the container ships and rewire its terminal for cold-ironing. That investment included $4.8 million from CARB grants through the Bay Area Quality Management District.
APL said it expects the process to cut nitrogen oxide emissions at Oakland by some 50,000 pounds annually and reduce particulate matter emissions by about 1,500 pounds a year.
Garcia said the AMECS system is better suited for the maritime industry because the system is home-based at the ports and eliminates the need to retrofit vessels.
AEG first tested its bonnet system at a Northern California intermodal railyard in 2006. That system, known as Advanced Locomotive Emissions Control System, involves placing the bonnet on locomotive smokestacks to capture emissions. ALECS moves along the tracks with the locomotives as trains are built in the intermodal yard. Garcia believes ALECS offers an environmental assist for railroads as they seek to expand or build new railyards in metropolitan areas.
AEG’s venture in the marine environment began with tests of AMECS in Long Beach in 2008. AEG’s problem then was that CARB has no testing protocol for the technology, Garcia said. AEG has spent the ensuing years working with CARB, the EPA and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to establish a testing protocol.
The protocol was recently approved, Garcia said, so now the real testing of AMECS can begin. “All eyes are on that test,” said Mike Christensen, deputy executive director of development at the Port of Los Angeles.
Garcia said ALECS would reduce particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions by 95 to 99 percent. He maintains that cold-ironing will capture only 56 percent of the emissions of a vessel at berth because the ship’s boiler must continue operating to keep the thick bunker fuel from solidifying.
Christensen said the testing will seek to verify AEG’s claims of emissions capture, and the tests will demonstrate if AMECS is affordable, able to withstand the rigors of the marine terminal environment and is energy efficient when the power used to operate the system is included in the formula.
Even if AMECS, or other alternative technologies are verified by CARB, the ports are still committed to cold-ironing. Heather Tomley, assistant director of environmental planning at the Port of Long Beach, noted that some funding from a California ballot initiative known as Proposition 1B already has been received, and the ports have begun to install the infrastructure. Some container lines also have invested in vessels capable of cold-ironing.
Tomley said various technologies eventually might be used at the ports. Long Beach recently issued a request for proposals for alternative technologies to reduce vessel emissions at berth, and six proposals were submitted.
One advantage of AMECS is that it can be used on all types of vessels. Tomley noted cold-ironing is best used for “frequent callers,” or container ships in a weekly service that call repeatedly at the ports. Many bulk and breakbulk vessels call infrequently, however, and it would be uneconomical to equip those vessels with cold-ironing capability. The CAAP currently requires cold-ironing only for container ships, although it could be amended to cover other types of vessels if cost-effective technologies are verified.
Even the cold-ironing rule for container ships can be amended to allow for the introduction of other technologies. Melissa Lin Perrella, staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Southern California air project, said such changes are common in an industry where technology is constantly evolving. “If a better way is developed,” she said, “I should think CARB would want to amend the rule.”