Port of Los Angeles to unveil zero-emission top-handler

Port of Los Angeles to unveil zero-emission top-handler

Los Angeles and Long Beach are helping to fund pilot projects to test eight or nine different types of zero-emission equipment. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

The Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday will unveil a battery-powered top-handler as part of a California Clean Air Day event meant to highlight the progress the port and neighboring Long Beach have made toward reaching the goal of deploying zero-emission cargo-handling equipment (CHE) by 2030.

The maritime industry is participating with other industries throughout the state in the second annual California Clean Air Day, an event that highlights achievements in reducing harmful diesel emissions. Los Angeles and Long Beach are further along than many non-maritime industries in reducing pollution as the ports have been enforcing standards that were set in their joint Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) adopted in 2006.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are seeking grants from government agencies and are contributing their own money to help fund pilot projects of zero-emission CHE. Although Long Beach on Wednesday will not unveil any new equipment, Rick Cameron, Long Beach’s deputy executive director for planning and development, told JOC.com the port is participating in pilot projects involving eight or nine different types of zero-emission CHE.

Some of those units that are already undergoing testing at the ports include hybrid and battery-powered yard tractors that move containers horizontally between vessels and container stacks. Los Angeles will unveil a battery-powered top-handler, a piece of equipment that is more difficult to electrify because it not only transports containers horizontally but also lifts containers vertically into and out of the stacks.

Balancing clean air and port competitiveness

Terminal operators, ocean carriers, and harbor truckers have supported the CAAP’s clean-air goals, and they continue to invest their own money in pollution reduction measures such as operating vessels at berth from shoreside electrical power (cold ironing) and testing battery-powered street trucks. However, the private sector has also warned the ports that attaining zero-emission goals should not come at a cost of diverting discretionary cargo to other gateways.

Cameron said the ports have listened to their tenants and stakeholders and seek to reach the 2030 goal for CHE only if equipment is operationally efficient, cost-effective, and commercially available by 2030. “These are important questions. We take them seriously,” he said.

Electrifying large pieces of equipment such as rubber-tired gantry cranes and top-handlers is more challenging than developing small zero-emission equipment such as yard tractors because the larger equipment must lift containers vertically. Cameron said the fact that battery-powered top-handlers are ready for testing is encouraging. If manufacturers can have this equipment commercially available over the next few years, it will enable terminal operators to engage in long-term planning of equipment purchases to meet the 2030 goal.

Testing these units in actual cargo-handling activities at marine terminals will allow the terminal operators, and the longshore workers that drive the equipment, to offer their input to manufacturers so they can produce equipment that can perform efficiently in rugged duty cycles of at least two eight-hour shifts a day.

Additionally, Cameron noted, actual experience with the equipment will help the terminal operators to determine the proper location for battery recharging stations, and to plan for any other changes in the terminal infrastructure that might be necessary to accommodate the multiple units that will be deployed each day. “Each terminal is different. The data points for each terminal are different,” he said. 

Because there is more than one manufacturer of each type of equipment, the ports face a major challenge working with the companies on developing a standard for charging equipment. “We need standardization on the charging side,” Cameron said.

He noted it took the ports four to five years working with vessel operators, terminals, and manufacturers to develop a standard for operating vessels at berth from shoreside power, so he is optimistic that a standard can be reached for charging battery-powered CHE.

Zero-emission CHE must be operationally and commercially viable

A marine terminal planner said that if the ports are to achieve the CAAP goal of zero-emission CHE by 2030, three points are key for each type of equipment — cost, performance, and whether the batteries can last long enough without degradation in performance.

On the other hand, electrified equipment generally incurs less maintenance and repair costs than diesel-powered equipment and the energy costs are lower, so the investment in the more costly battery-powered equipment is usually offset by lower operating costs over the life of the CHE, Cameron said. 

He added that it is important for the ports, California regulatory agencies, and the terminal operators to maintain open lines of communication because each terminal has a schedule for its fleet replacement. Cameron said some terminals are holding off to gain better clarity as to which types of equipment will be operationally and commercially available when it is time for fleet replacement, but they are also wondering how long they should wait.

Given recent advances in the development of all types of zero-emission CHE, Cameron said he is “cautiously optimistic” most of the equipment will be commercially available in time to meet the 2030 goal.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bill.mongelluzzo@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.