Alternative Fuel, Environmentally Friendly Equipment: How Terminals are Going Green

An electric 19-passenger minibus at the GCT Deltaport container terminal. Photos courtesy of GCT.

Terminals up and down the West Coast are incorporating environmentally friendly practices, equipment and technologies in an effort to meet emissions goals, improve efficiency and enhance community and workforce health.

The focus for many is to reduce carbon emissions and upgrade terminal vehicles, including heavy-duty equipment. The challenge is that the market is still expanding to include the maritime industry and demand outpaces the supply.

As green technology advances, ports, terminals and manufacturers are reaffirming their commitment to environmental, social and governance principles.

To find out the latest, Pacific Maritime reached out to officials from green certification programs, terminal operators and organizations focused on environmentally friendly services and products.

Green Marine

The trend of environmentally friendly equipment and programs in the maritime industry is evident by the participation in Green Marine, a leading environmental certification program for North America.

Green Marine’s membership has increased more than five-fold since the program’s inception 15 years ago. Its robust growth can be attributed to a number of factors. There’s a mounting awareness of the program’s success throughout North America, as well as an open door for  newcomers, Green Marine President David Bolduc told Pacific Maritime. The program guides new participants from where they are—starting with level one monitoring of regulations to the program’s higher levels with year-over-year improvements.

In general, participants’ efforts and performance are improving. Currently, Green Marine’s global average remains steady around level three—on a scale of one to five—even as program requirements have become more rigorous over the years.

The program is reviewed annually to ensure it encompasses new regulations, best practices and technologies, and is progressively more demanding year over year as a result, Bolduc explained.

The program also continues to incorporate new challenges, like performance indicators on community relations and aquatic ecosystems that now apply to ports. The certification also requires a commitment to continual improvement.

The Green Marine program’s cumulative effect in reducing maritime transportation’s environmental footprint has been substantial, Bolduc noted. Participants are provided with a detailed framework for improving their performance in several areas: air, water and soil quality, biodiversity protection and community relations.

“This framework serves as a roadmap towards greater sustainability since participants know what tangible actions and concrete measures they must implement to increase their performance in our program,” Bolduc said.

Level one represents the monitoring of regulations, with actions increasing in difficulty and impact as levels increase.

Trigon Pacific Terminals uses 100% electric vehicles for its British Columbia terminal activities. Photo: Lonnie Wishart.

Trigon BC

Trigon Pacific Terminals Ltd. in British Columbia was the only terminal to earn a perfect score in the 2022 Green Marine. The company has participated in the program for more than a decade.

“We are very proud of the work we have done at the terminal and also the support we get from our owners and other stakeholders,” Trigon Director of Engineering and Environment Hasan Yahya told Pacific Maritime.

They were also re-certified with Climate Smart in 2024, which helps better understand greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and stay on track toward goals.

Trigon has made a number of environmentally friendly upgrades.

In the last two to three years, the company has invested in equipment upgrades, which has made a significant difference, Yahya noted.

“We kind of re-juggled our yard operation so that we do less (bull)dozing,” he explained. 

Also, it has been slowly replacing older vehicles with electric vehicles, he added, and has purchased two for the terminal and put them into operation.

They are headed toward hybrid electric and plug-in hybrids for the rest of the vehicles, Yahya added. Some of the other vehicles that need a “bit more rugged operation” are to be replaced with hybrid electric vehicles.

EVs for the applications they need at Trigon are not available on the market yet, Yahya commented. They’re coming slowly, so they’ll transition over the next several years.

Coupled with that work, Trigon also conducted an electrical energy study, where it contracted a company to analyze all on-site energy consumption and opportunities for reduction.

Trigon has 22 vehicles (trucks, SUVs, etc.) that it hopes to replace, which will probably increase to 25 as they add more manpower to the roster, Yahya said. They’re also looking at electrifying heavy-duty equipment and are working with various vendors.

Trigon has said that it’s working with the Prince Rupert Port Authority to obtain renewable fuel “as a steppingstone” until electric heavy-duty vehicles become available. At press time, the Port Authority anticipated replacing all diesel fuel with renewables in late spring.

“With that being said, we’re optimistic that in the next three to five years we will see all of this equipment that we’re looking for and it will be available at reasonable price,” Yahya said.

A fundamental shift in how they operate at the terminal has made the biggest impact on their green goals.

“The optimization of the way we operate has been really the biggest significant contributor to our success here,” Yahya said.

For example, at Trigon’s large yard, they previously spread out the piles of metallurgical coal for steelmaking, which the world will need for many years. They’ve continued the operation, but have since focused on more efficient placement, Yahya explained.

“We’ve been very vigilant on trying to reduce our footprint,” he said. “That’s one thing that we have been really good at from an operational perspective.”

They’ve also focused on education of the workforce, Yahya commented. For example, they helped workers visualize how much carbon monoxide is created from idling vehicles by comparing it to the number of homes that could be heated with the same amount. They also installed an electric vehicle charger that employees who own EVs can use for free.

SSA Marine

SSA Marine is one of the largest leading independent main terminal operators globally and has more than 250 terminals around the world.

The company has made an effort to be a leader in testing zero-emissions equipment at their marine terminals and they’re always looking for new ways to advance toward that goal, Meghan Weinman, SSA Marine’s vice president of sustainability, told Pacific Maritime.

Carrix, SSA Marine’s Seattle-based parent company, has a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 15% (compared to 2021 levels) by the end of 2024.

“We’re anticipating that we should be on target to hit our reduction goal later this year,” Weinman said.

The company’s also working on a number of planning efforts.

SSA Marine terminals have been making strides toward those overarching goals in recent years. In 2022, SSA Marine used more than 2 million gallons of renewable diesel at their terminals in California.

That was a fairly easy switchover, added Scott Hainlen, superintendent with SSA Marine at its terminals at the Port of Long Beach, since they were able to use the same tanks that stored traditional diesel.

Also at SSA’s Long Beach terminal, in 2020 the company converted nine rubber-tired gantry cranes at Pier J from diesel to fully electric.

Although the RTG cranes are in use and running well, it’s not necessarily a solution they’re looking at for the future, given movement restrictions on the cranes since they’re tied to the grid, Hainlen explained.

The remaining SSA Marine RTGs in California, six more in Long Beach and 13 in Oakland, were converted to diesel hybrid between 2019 and 2021. They went from burning about 10 gallons of fuel an hour to less than two, he noted.

“So far, that has been one of our better projects,” Hainlen said.

They also demonstrated two of Taylor’s electric top handlers at Pier J at POLB.

“Those actually worked really well. The operators liked them, but we had a big restriction with the range,” he said.

They could only get 10 to 12 hours of runtime and they required a five-hour re-charge. Those time frames wouldn’t work for the terminal workers with back-to-back eight-hour shift operations, Hainlen said.

Since they were the first generation, the technology is already outdated, he added. The firm is no longer using those container handlers, but instead are looking at machines powered by hydrogen fuel cells. They’re scheduled to demonstrate two such handlers with the new technology in late 2025 and are currently working on hydrogen-fuel dispensing systems, Hainlen said.

An electrified rubber tired gantry crane at the SSA Marine terminal within the Port of Long Beach. Photo: POLB.

At the POLB’s Pier C, there’s also 33 plug-in electric terminal tractors.

“We are still working through some of the kinks to get all of this up and running,” Hainlen said.

The project began back in 2019 when there were no original equipment manufacturers producing electric trucks, he said. With nothing commercially available, they had a supplier that was already building their diesel units construct a cab and chassis, which they then sent out to another company for electric retrofitting.

They have 10 up and running and hope to get all 33 working within the next few months.

Another challenge comes from union rules that don’t allow operators to hop out and plug/unplug their own machines, Hainlen explained. It’s been a struggle trying to find a solution to that, he added. Logistically, there’s not enough time for the appropriate worker to plug and unplug all of them, considering the eight-hour shifts, at least an hour of re-charge time, and more than 100 of those machines at the bigger terminals.

“We’re looking at all of our options to automate that process,” he said.

They are currently working on developing blueprints for all of their terminals to convert to zero emissions and a big part of that is working with the regional utility company, Southern California Edison, to bring in the power they need.

“Right now, we do not have all the power that we would require to go fully electric with a lot of this equipment,” Hainlen said. The aim is to connect what they’re doing at the terminals and work alongside SCE “to make sure that we have the power we need when we’re ready to go.”

There have certainly been advancements with technology over the last few years, Weinman said. They’ve also partnered with the industry based on teir expectations of what would fit the terminal’s use, including duty cycles and labor considerations.

At this time, the current technology is meeting their needs, Hainlen commented. There are a handful of original equipment manufacturers from which they’ve previously purchased diesel trucks that are slowly starting to produce electric models.

Although there aren’t a lot that are commercially available at this point, he expects there to be more options in the future.

“In a few years…pretty much everyone building a diesel terminal tractor will have an electric option as well,” Hainlen said.

SSA Marine is currently in the process of updating their sustainability strategy and some of their long-term goals, Weinman said.


In terms of environmentally friendly energy options, the Propane Education and Research Council is on the forefront of the effort.

Propane is made in the United States and emits significantly fewer emissions than diesel, gasoline and electricity in a wide range of applications, including ports, PERC Senior Manager of Business Development Jim Bunsey explained.

“Propane is one solution on the path to achieving a low-carbon future,” he said.

 In fact, today’s ultra-low nitrogen oxide (NOx) propane engines are 90% cleaner than Environmental Protection Agency standards, moving the industry closer to achieving near-zero emissions, he added.

Propane-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) yard tractors are currently one of the only near-zero emissions fuel technologies capable today of meeting marine terminal operators’ endurance needs — traveling consistent speeds and distances no matter the cargo weight — while still reducing emissions, Bunsey noted.

Propane is also ideal in port settings because it’s non-toxic, won’t contaminate water or soil if spilled, and it doesn’t break down over time like diesel and gasoline, he said.

“Propane use in port applications is growing in popularity as emissions regulations and clean energy demands increase,” Bunsey said.

Propane is a versatile and widely available energy source capable of powering microgrids, generators and cargo-handling equipment throughout ports. It’s often used in port forklifts, power generation, shore power and EV charging.

There’s been a recent increase in propane engines used to power larger equipment, like port tractors, Bunsey pointed out. He noted that researchers evaluated data collected in 2022 from two port tractors—one powered by propane and the other powered by diesel—engaged in normal operations throughout the terminal.

The results confirmed the propane-powered tractor yielded 99% fewer NOx composite and idle emissions than the diesel tractor. Additionally, the propane tractor produced 77.5% fewer THC idle emissions, 14% fewer brake-specific carbon-dioxide emissions and 75% fewer TPM emissions than its diesel counterpart. 

Technology for propane is continuing to advance, Bunsey added, making renewable propane an increasingly viable option. 

“Renewable propane offers the same benefits as conventional propane—reliability, portability and power—but with the added benefit of reduced emissions compared with other energy sources,” he said. “Plus, renewable propane is chemically identical to traditional propane, meaning it can be used in the same applications or in innovative blends.”

Renewable propane is made from a variety of renewable feedstocks, including camelina plant oil, vegetable oil, animal fats, used cooking oil, soybean oil and animal tallow. At the point of combustion, renewable propane’s carbon intensity—the carbon emitted for every unit of energy it produces—is four times lower than conventional propane and five times lower than diesel. Within the next few years, 100 million gallons of renewable propane is expected to be available, with a total potential of 300 million gallons in the next decade, Bunsey said. 

Global Container Terminals

Global Container Terminals Inc. has a “Global Commitment” program that reaffirms the company’s dedication to environmental stewardship, safety and community development, GCT Energy and Sustainability Manager M.K. Anand explained to Pacific Maritime. It is also continuing to advance its five-year environmental, social and governance strategy with 10 key priorities.

“I’m incredibly proud of our team’s dedication to reducing the environmental and community impacts of our terminals,” President and CEO Eric Waltz said in a recent statement.

The company’s plan to be net zero by 2050 is in line with Canada’s climate objectives and the company signed onto the federal government’s Net Zero Challenge. Building on the recommendations of Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, Anand explained that GCT is investing in expanding its light-duty fleet electrification, introducing new electric ship-to-shore cranes, installing LED lighting and acquiring low-emission container handling equipment.

The company’s also actively expanding EV charging infrastructure across the GCT Deltaport and GCT Vanterm container terminals, with 28 operational EV chargers already in place. These installations have effectively mitigated 350,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions from local communities, Anand noted.

The effort is also implemented in governance and leadership at GCT, which has achieved the Climate Smart Certification and maintained high marks across the board for Green Marine certification at all terminals. GCT has been Green Marine certified since 2014.

Anand noted that there’s also ongoing equipment and terminal modernization work. GCT is advancing light-duty electrification by procuring a fleet of EV pickup trucks to meet the goal of full light-duty fleet electrification by 2030.

The GCT Vanterm modernization project also added new technology and equipment across the terminal. New ship-to-shore cranes ordered are all designed with modern, more efficient, all-electric motors to help increase berth productivity and reduce running hours required to service vessels, Anand said.

This maintains an all-electric STS crane fleet for GCT featuring efficient, regenerative drives that can push power back into the grid.

The GCT Deltaport prime route optimization program continues to reduce distance traveled by on-terminal equipment and cut tire consumption.

They are also continuing to convert to LED lighting on equipment; full terminal lighting-retrofit projects completed at GCT Vanterm and GCT Deltaport are reducing emissions, glare and the number of lights across facilities.

Western Stevedoring

Western Stevedoring is also committed to a greener future with an emphasis on sustainability and reducing emissions, Vice President, People & Sustainability for Western Group, Kim Stegeman-Lowe told Pacific Maritime.

They have two terminals (Squamish and Lynnterm) that are certified Green Marine, she noted, and both have made notable efforts to green their operations. 

At Lynnterm, they switched from regular diesel to renewable diesel in December. 

“This move aligns with our broader goal of embracing innovation and environmental responsibility,” Stegeman-Lowe explained. 

Some of the other key initiatives they’re taking on at both terminals include educating work crews to increase waste recycling rates, implementing anti-idling policies for all operating equipment, transitioning to electric lift trucks and electric company vehicles, engaging in community clean up events and more. 

“Our Green Marine certification continues to play a pivotal role in guiding us to tackle these initiatives, showcasing our commitment for a more sustainable maritime industry,” Stegeman-Lowe said.

Ports America

Ports America’s investment in ESG principles underscores their commitment to stakeholders and communities, Dr. Sharifa Batts, the head of environment and sustainability, told Pacific Maritime.

After a comprehensive review of the equipment used on their partner terminals, Ports America officials identified where combustion fueled cargo-handling equipment can be replaced with electric alternatives, in addition to installing solar panels at select ports, in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Ports America has multiple West Coast terminals, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Tacoma and San Diego.

“In collaboration with the ports, we are facilitating infrastructure development and securing grants for our electrification initiatives,” Batts said.

Batts noted that this year, in partnership with the Port of New Orleans, Ports America was awarded grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration in an effort to reduce truck emissions at port facilities. The funds are to help the port purchase a fleet of seven electric terminal tractors and charging infrastructure.   

Sara Hall has 15 years of experience at several regional and national magazines, online news outlets, and daily and weekly newspapers, where coverage has  included reporting on local harbor activities, marine-based news, and regional and state coastal agencies. Her work has included photography, writing, design and layout.