New Study: Clean Alternative Fuels Gaining at Top Ports

Study found that natural gas is currently the leading alternative fuel for goods movement at U.S. container ports, while hybrid electric vehicles are gaining popularity in Asia.

BOULDER, CO: U.S. and international container shipping ports are among the world's biggest sources of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, because of their reliance on diesel fuel for goods movement. But progress toward reducing harmful emissions by switching to clean alternative fuels is gaining momentum worldwide, according to a new research study, “Container Ports and Air Pollution,” published by Energy Futures, Inc. The study found that natural gas is currently the leading alternative fuel for goods movement at U.S. container ports, while hybrid electric vehicles are gaining popularity in Asia.

The 77-page report presents findings from a 10-month-long study that included on-site visits to evaluate air pollution control efforts at top container ports in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The new Energy Futures study updates and expands on a report titled “U.S. Container Ports and Air Pollution: A Perfect Storm,” which was published in February, 2008. That study identified environmental protection alternative fuel programs at each of the Top 10 U.S. container ports, including their use of natural gas, biodiesel or hybrid electric vehicles.

James S. Cannon, President, Energy Futures. Inc., said, “A key premise of our studies of air pollution in the container shipping industry is that alternative fuels offer viable options for use in goods movement operations to replace polluting fuels that are derived from oil. These clean-burning fuels are known to work well in port goods movement, and there is great promise that they can be more widely used in the shipping supply chain.” Mr. Cannon unveiled the new report to an international audience in a speech today at the GreenPorts 2009 Conference in Naples, Italy.

Overall, the new Energy Futures report is a “call to action” that asks decision makers to increase alternative fuel use to protect public health and environmental quality in port communities when they formulate policies designed to maintain port growth.
Included in the new report are updated profiles that showcase air pollution control efforts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA; the Port of New York and New Jersey; the Port of Savannah, GA; the Port of Oakland, CA; the Port of Hampton Roads, VA; the Port of Seattle, WA; the Port of Tacoma, WA; the Port of Houston, TX, and the Port of Charleston, SC. Case studies at the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the Port of Hong Kong are also included.

The research clearly shows that 2008 was the busiest year yet for innovative new environmental efforts, particularly at the top U.S. container ports. Many ports are taking action to reduce the pollution they generate through alternative fuel and advanced technology programs. In 2008, for example, regional truck programs were launched at the three California ports — Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland — that are expected to deploy thousands of natural gas-powered goods movement trucks during the next few years.

Cannon explained that the U.S. is the largest importer of containerized goods, yet the millions of containers handled at U.S. ports annually comprise only about 10 percent of the global container trade. The study documents significant progress during 2008 in environmental programs affecting international goods movement. Most importantly, the London-based International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted amendments to regulations governing air pollution from ships.

The IMO revisions call for a progressive reduction in the global sulfur cap on bunkerfuel, from the current limit of 45,000 parts per million to 5,000 parts per million. “The bunkerfuel that powers most ships is the dregs of oil refining,” Cannon said. Typically, container ships burn bunkerfuel when idle in port, to provide for their electrical needs.
“Switching entirely from bunkerfuel to natural gas to power container ships would significantly lower emissions,” he said. “Particulate matter pollution has been shown to decline 70 percent, while nitrogen oxides fall 72 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions are virtually eliminated when bunkerfuel is replaced by natural gas.”

Europe’s largest container port, located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, manages an extensive array of programs designed to reduce air pollution from container handling. For example, the port is studying the use of natural gas as a fuel for hundreds of barges that daily carry containers to inland destinations.

In Asia, the study’s review of port clean-up efforts included Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Onsite Energy Futures researchers found several port programs involving the use of alternative fuels and advanced propulsion technologies. Various applications of electrical energy are the current alternatives of choice in the region.
“Air Pollution and Container Ports” is available for downloading at no charge by clicking HERE.

About Energy Futures, Inc.

Founded in 1979 to study energy and related environmental issues in the transportation sector, Energy Futures publishes the quarterly international journal “The Clean Fuels and Electric Vehicles Report,” and the bimonthly newsletter “Hybrid Vehicles.” James S. Cannon, President of Energy Futures, has studied alternative transportation fuels since 1986 and is the author or editor of six books on the topic, more than a dozen reports and over 50 professional papers. His most recent book, “Reducing Climate Impacts in the Transportation Sector,” was published in October 2008. He also researched and wrote the 2008 report, “U.S. Container Ports and Air Pollution: A Perfect Storm.”