By Kathy A. Smith
Ports on the West Coast continue to invest in environmental projects that push the boundaries of technology and innovation.
In late 2019, the Port of Los Angeles introduced the world’s first zero emissions battery electric top handler, which can lift up to 90,000 pounds. Manufactured by Mississippi-based Taylor Machine Works, the top handlers run on a one-megawatt battery designed to allow the top handler to operate for up to 18 hours between charges. Each top handler has a data logger for tracking hours of operation, charging frequency, energy usage and other performance indicators.
The new top handlers are a key component of the Port’s $7.7 million Everport Advanced Cargo Handling Demonstration Project. The California Energy Commission (CEC) is supporting the large-scale zero-emissions technology project with a $4.5 million sustainability grant.
Also being tested at Everport Terminal are 10 battery electric yard tractors (sometimes referred to as UTRs or Utility Tractor Rigs) and 20 renewable natural gas yard tractors. Renewable natural gas is believed to be a viable solution for the future; collecting methane from places such as landfills, dairy farms and waste facilities is less carbon-intensive compared to drilling to take natural gas out of the ground. This demonstration will allow the renewable natural gas yard tractors to be compared to the battery electric versions for operational performance as well as environmental benefits.
At West Basin Container Terminal, 10 battery electric yard tractors are being fitted with inductive charging equipment. The development of this project began in 2018 when the City of Los Angeles Harbor Department submitted a grant proposal to the California Energy Commission. The 12 advanced wireless charging systems are developed by Wireless Advanced Vehicle Electrification, Inc. (WAVE).
The process of inductive charging is similar to how cell phones are charged on a pad, for instance. “This is the first time we’ve tested inductive charging with a yard tractor,” says Chris Cannon, Director of Environmental Management at the Port of Los Angeles. “These yard tractors can just pull up into their parking spot and the charge is right there in the ground. This system is more expensive than a regular plug-in style unit. The terminal operators will just compare the costs and the benefits.”
At the Port’s Pasha Terminal, solar panels are being installed on some warehouses. The panels collect energy from sun and store it in two 1.5-megawatt batteries. This allows for charging electric yard tractors, forklifts and electric drayage trucks overnight, which also allows the terminal to keep operating off the grid in the event of a natural disaster.
On the ship emissions front, Maersk Line, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach are partnering to measure the environmental benefits of a $125 million upgrade for 12 Maersk container ships. This will involve the installation of high-tech equipment to track vessel emissions and energy efficiency over the next three years.
Maersk will be modifying vessel bulbous bows to help deflect drag, optimize engines to run at an environmentally beneficial speed, and use ceramic-based propellers for better glide in the water. Additionally, vessel bridges will be heightened to accommodate an extra layer of containers.
This move is expected to decrease each ship’s fuel consumption by more than 10 percent, saving an estimated 10,000 metric tons of fuel on an annual basis. This would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an estimated 31,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year and also lead to beneficial reductions of diesel particulate matter (DPM), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx).
Using porous pavement at the Port of Portland’s vehicle terminals has proved to have various environmental benefits. The Port has installed porous pavement at both its Terminal 4 and Terminal 6 facilities. In 2006, the Port installed a 45-acre porous pavement system and vegetated swales at the Auto Warehousing Corporation (AWC) auto storage facility at Terminal 6 that provided for infiltration of 100 percent of the stormwater for the new addition. The installations were completed with minimal disruption of terminal operations.
“One of the big benefits is that [porous pavement] stimulates the natural cycle of rainfall,” says Richard Vincent, Senior Environmental Planner. “It mimics the natural type of a hydrologic cycle. From a stormwater perspective, what happens is that it soaks into the subsurface, cools as it does that, and reaches the ground water table at a much cooler temperature. Then eventually it’ll find its way to the surface water wherever the groundwater daylights. At that point it’s much cooler and a lot cleaner.”
Vincent says from an operations point of view, installing porous pavement may be more expensive upfront, but it makes up on the additional costs as there is no need to build a regular stormwater system. “There are no catch basins. No pipes. No outfall,” he says. “For ports generally you’re not connecting to a current system. You’re building a new outfall. That can be a considerable amount of money in studies, permitting and infrastructure costs. It’s also huge from a timetable savings point of view.”
Using porous pavement depends on the subsurface; conditions have to be adequate in order to get the percolation needed. It also takes a really astute contractor who is willing to take the time and put in the layers of base and drainage rock, very specifically, in order for it to work properly, explains Vincent.
“We would not be putting containers on it,” he says. “We would not be putting really heavy loads on it. It’s a first point of rest and bunching areas for the movement of autos. New, clean automobiles that are lightweight and don’t stress the pavement too much are ideal. We’ve used it on some roadways at our Terminal 4 facility. In that case, we put it on the roadways in the straight stretches. We put regular pavement in the turns where you tend to get more lateral loads that can potentially tear the pavement up. I don’t think we would build another auto yard without doing this.”
An additional 19 acres of porous pavement was installed in 2017 at Terminal 6, part of a $7 million expansion allowing the parking of up to 3,000 vehicles. Vincent says all that’s needed for maintenance is to vacuum sweep the area once or twice a year.
In 2017, the Port of Long Beach set very aggressive goals to reduce cargo handling emissions, and is in the midst of several demonstration projects. Over $76 million in grants from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission are driving the roll-out of equipment testing, which includes top handlers and drayage trucks.
These initiatives are part of the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) that both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have carried out for the past 15 years. In the CAAP 2017 report, it was noted that since 2005, San Pedro Bay port-related emissions of diesel particulate matter (DPM) have dropped 87 percent, nitrogen oxides (NOx) have fallen by 56 percent, and sulfur oxides (SOx) are close to being eliminated. Additionally, greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions have been reduced by 18 percent.
Now the goal is zero emissions for cargo handling equipment by 2030 and zero emissions for on-road drayage trucks serving the ports by 2035.
Interestingly, there is a workforce development aspect to some of these innovations says Matt Arms, Acting Director of Environmental Planning for the Port of Long Beach. For instance, a yard truck or top pick may have the same duty cycle, but the maintenance required is different around charging batteries as opposed to refueling with diesel fuel. The Port is looking at partnering with Informatics Diversity-Enhanced Workforce (IDEW) apprenticeship programs and local colleges to help build the workforce of the future.
Earlier this year, both the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles considered a rate to charge containers coming in and out of ports to incentivize zero emissions. Additionally, the Pier B on-rail dock facility is changing the way containers are handled by having them loaded onto rail cars instead of trucks. The expansion of Pier B will allow for a large staging area where sections of trains can be purpose-built for the operation, with each completed train removing approximately 750 local, short-haul truck trips, thereby reducing emissions on roadways. Currently in the development stage, the first phase of the project is estimated to be completed in 2024.
Arms points out that besides zero emissions initiatives, the port industry overall is looking for increased efficiency across all operations. “Since we adopted the Green Port Policy in 2005, we’ve made tremendous strides with water quality, air quality, sustainability, and include green and sustainability in all the decisions we make.”
While it’s not known when the cruise season will begin again, earlier this year, the Port of Seattle put out a Request for Proposal for the development for a new cruise terminal at Terminal 46. Among key highlights of the proposed project is to incorporate leading-edge environmental stewardship and sustainability practices and facilities. This fourth cruise berth is being considered to accommodate future growth in the cruise sector. The estimated $100 million expenditure (50 percent Port and 50 percent partner investment) would see the facility located at the northern 29 acres of the 86.5-acre terminal.