Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GreenPacific Conference 2012: The Push Toward Zero Emissions

By Mark Edward Nero

The many challenges facing the marine transport industry’s implementation of green technology, and potential solutions to those challenges, were discussed by a wide array of industry experts during the third annual GreenPacific Conference last month in Long Beach, California.

During the conference, which was held Jan. 17-18 and attracted about 100 attendees, the over-arching topic was zero emissions technology. More than a dozen speakers addressed issues associated with it during six panel discussions, which examined its promises, and challenges, pending projects, fixed rail applications, legal and regulatory implications, among other topics. Those in attendance acknowledged that the term “zero emissions” actually currently means no local emissions, as much of the electricity to power port projects still produces emissions at the source of generation.

“What we’re seeing is a march toward zero emissions,” Thomas Jelenic, the assistant director of environmental affairs and planning for the Port of Long Beach said during a panel discussion on container handling and shore power projects at container terminals.

“We’re looking at a complete shift in the way that terminals do business in the future,” Jelenic said.

During a panel discussion on promises and challenges, Visionary Intermodal Products & Solutions President & CEO Tom Kelly said that the march toward zero emissions on the docks can be aided through concerted strategies that include better controlling equipment inside and around terminals, such as lift equipment, trucks, trains and ships.

Less movement with fewer vehicles is also a key, he said, and can be accomplished through better organization of container stacking operations and more on-dock rail.

Kelly also talked about a potential future wherein commuter trains would be filled with cargo instead of passengers, and the majority of containers would be removed from the public highway system via a system that would operate like the existing conveyor systems in distribution centers.

Within 60 miles of a marine terminal, electric conveyance vehicles would move containers to substations, and the substations would transfer the containers to trucks for final delivery.

“This can all be done,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing preventing it from happening except money, space and the willingness to make it happen.”

During the conference’s on-road technology panel, Port of LA air quality environmental supervisor Kevin Maggay said his port can act as a regional catalyst for zero emissions, but that it’s only part of the solution.

“When people think of goods movement, they think of the port only, which is not the case. There is the entire logistics network out there,” he said. “But if something can be done here at the port, then it can be done at a lot of other places. But we can’t do it alone. We need to develop partnerships with other agencies with the same goals.”

Those other agencies, including the regional air quality district and state Air Resources Board should work together on solutions, Maggay said.

“All of these agencies have zero emission initiatives and we need to work together to find regional solutions,” he said. “I think a worst case scenario would be if each of these agencies invested and developed into separate technologies that don’t work together and we end up with a patchwork of technologies. Collaboration is key.”

Zero emissions tech has been on the front burner at the adjoining ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for some time now. The site, which is one of the busiest complexes in the world, is also consequently, one of the biggest fixed station sources of air in the western US, due to the high volumes of ship, truck and train traffic that pass through it.

To help combat that, the Port of LA has adopted goals of reducing diesel particulate matter in the San Pedro Bay area by 72 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2014. It is also aiming to decrease sulfur oxide levels by 93 percent and nitrogen oxide levels by 22 percent, also by 2014.

Last July, as part of its anti-pollution efforts, the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports jointly adopted a joint zero emission technology development program, which seeks to identify, evaluate and test early-stage zero emission tech for port operations.

Among the early projects is a test of a prototype hybrid-electric drayage truck developed by Volvo. Also, funding for a technology demonstration of a zero-emission rail application that could be retrofitted into the existing infrastructure is in the works and could go before the ports this spring.

“This is really an exciting time to be working in technology, to be working for the ports,” Maggay said during his presentation. “Who knows what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be exciting.”

During a panel on fixed rail applications, Ken James of the computer engineering department at California State University, Long Beach, talked about his university’s history of working on innovations in freight movement, beginning with magnetic levitation in 2003.

The University sponsors a research and development center, the Center for Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies, which deals with maritime transportation issues. Among the lessons learned through the CCDOTT, James said, were that new technology must be “seamless.”

“If it doesn’t operate the same as a ship, truck or train, but cheaper, nobody wants it,” he said. The rule also applies to facilities, personnel and even supporting structure, he said, but gave one exception.

“Public pressure for cleaner, safer transport and the accompanying regulatory mandates can overcome ‘cheaper,’ but it still has to operate like a truck ore train,” he said.

Among the other pieces of knowledge learned, according to James, were that any form of new infrastructure, such high-speed rail, is too expensive to be feasible, and that current investment in road and rail infrastructure should be leveraged by new technologies.

And those new technologies, he said, should utilize road and rail and not try to transform them.

Also during the fixed rail panel, Kirk Marckwald, founder and principal of California Environmental Associates, a San Francisco-based environmental management and regulatory compliance company, cautioned that care must be taken when implementing any new rail emissions equipment.

“We need to ensure that any technology introduced does not compromise the safety, velocity, cargo throughput, economic competitiveness or reliability of the goods movement system,” he said.

During a panel discussion with terminal operators regarding existing zero emission container handling projects and shore power projects at Southern California container terminals, the Port of Long Beach’s Jelenic said that the percentage of port emissions generated by cargo handling equipment was starting to rise again due to the percentages of other emission sources at the port falling. This, he predicted, would lead to more governmental regulatory measures.

“Cargo-handling equipment went from 15 percent to four percent, now it’s starting to creep back up. As we all know, the nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered,” he said. “And I think that will lead us toward zero emissions.”

Also during the operators panel, Bob Clark, the environmental affairs director for shipping outfit APL, talked about the headway his company has made regarding the use of shore power at the line’s West Coast terminal calls.

Under regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board, three years ago, 50 percent of a fleet’s visits to a port in the state must be shore-power visits and the total auxiliary engine power generated by the fleet’s ships while docked has to be reduced by 50 percent, starting Jan. 1, 2014.

The regulation increases to 70 percent of visits and a 70 percent reduction in 2017, and 80 percent by 2020.

APL was ahead of the curve when it officially launched shoreside power at the Port of Oakland in March 2011. The company also plans to implement the technology at three berths at the Port of Los Angeles’ Pier 300 in 2013 and an additional Pier 300 berth in 2014.

Retrofitting a single terminal costs about $4 million, according to Clark, and vessel retrofits are another $2 million. The problem, he said, it that APL estimates it will take 23 years to recoup in fuel and other savings the amount it takes to retrofit a single terminal.

“A 23-year payback is not very good,” he said. “We need partnerships to pay for this.”