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Every success carries a price tag. For container shipping lines and ports, the recent boom in global trade has raised the industry's public profile-along with concerns about its impact on the environment.
Ships and ports have joined industrial smokestacks and cars as major symbols of pollution. Commercial harbors are among the biggest contributors to poor air and water quality. Now, in an effort to clean up their public image as well as their operations, major carriers and container ports are going "green" in a big way.
They are attacking the issue on a number of fronts. Cooperative efforts abound, spearheaded by such bodies as the World Shipping Council, International Maritime Organization (IMO), Clean Cargo Working Group and Container Shipping Information Service. Some of those initiatives are already showing results, although most remain in their early stages and have yet to be adopted by industry on a widespread basis.
Singapore-based APL, part of the NOL Group, has multiple programs under way. The carrier has taken the lead in such areas as emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur oxide (SOx) and other vessel pollutants. George Solomon, director of global security and environment, also cites particulate matter, oil, chemicals, ballast water, sewage and garbage as issues to be addressed on the maritime side.
Among the easiest measures to implement is slowing the speed of ships to reduce fuel consumption. That raises costs in other areas, especially with regard to inventory-holding expense, as well as customer-service issues. But the latter appears to be less of a problem today than in the past, with shippers claiming that schedule reliability is more important than outright speed.
New vessel technology can help in a variety of ways. Solomon says APL is either deploying or investigating the use of special valves to reduce NOx, low-sulfur fuel, improvements in propeller efficiency and environmentally friendly silicon paint, which also lessens water resistance.
One area that APL has pioneered is a new fuel emulsification system which increases the proportion of water in marine fuel, thereby cutting NOx emissions by as much as 20 percent. APL first tested the technology in early 2007, on the APL Singapore. Results have been slow in coming, however, with the carrier striving to achieve an optimal fuel mixture that will cut down on NOx without harming the ship's engines. "We are again starting up on this project, with modifications made to the equipment, and we will be trying it out shortly," says Solomon. The effort is a partnership with the California Air Resources Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Another technique drawing interest from the shipping community is a switch to low-sulfur fuels for auxiliary engines, when a ship is within a certain distance of a port. Such a program is already in place at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but APL is considering an additional measure by using the cleaner fuel in its main engines as well. Solomon says the line might try out the idea on a few ships before deciding whether it's viable. Ultra-low-sulfur fuel is also in use for cargo-handling equipment at APL terminals in Los Angeles and Oakland.
Controversy has long surrounded the issue of cold ironing, a technique where ships shut down their own power plants while at berth, and switch to shoreside electricity. For years, vessel owners have claimed that the technology is lacking for such a plan to work economically. Now, as public concern over ship-stack emissions grows, a handful of ports are looking into cold ironing, with APL recently conducting a demonstration trial at the Port of Oakland. According to the Port of Los Angeles, cold ironing eliminates one ton of emissions per day, for each ship plugged into shore power.
NYK Line Hooks Up
Japan's Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK Line) completed a successful trial of cold ironing at Los Angeles late last year. The NYK Atlas ran on shore power for the three days it was in port. The line has said it will deploy 38 containerships with Alternative Marine Power (AMP) over the next several years, at a cost of $22m.
Peter Keller, president of NYK Line (North America) Inc., is reluctant to say which of the carrier's green programs promises the best results. "That's sort of like trying to pick your favorite child," he says. "A lot of it will depend on the region." In areas of high pollution such as Southern California, carriers and ports are actively involved in cold ironing, alternative fuels and other air-quality initiatives. But in the bulk tanker sector, double hulling and spill prevention are paramount concerns.
The Grand Alliance, a slot-sharing agreement of which NYK is a member, recently added a ninth vessel to its Japan-North Europe service, in part to allow for slower speeds in that lane. The move will reduce emissions by 20 to 30 percent, the carriers claim. Other members of the Grand Alliance are Germany's Hapag-Lloyd AG, Malaysia's MISC Berhad and Hong Kong's OOCL. The group has adopted "ecospeeds" in three other major services, but has no plans to extend the practice further "because we can only reduce a ship's speed to a certain extent," NYK has said.
NYK is working to reduce fuel consumption as another means of cutting CO2 emissions and operating expense. A "Save Bunker" campaign was launched in October 2005 to fine-tune marine operations, optimize vessel routing and embrace new technologies toward that end. Examples include the use of weather forecasts for improved route planning, fuel additives to promote conservation and prevent corrosion, and experiments in fuel emulsification.
Beyond the container business, NYK is building a series of car-carrying "Ecoships" which are expected to yield energy savings of 50 percent over their predecessors. The gains will come in such areas as partial solar power generation, more efficient cargo handling, better propulsion systems and a more streamlined hull design.
With 800 vessels in operation, and 1,000 expected by 2010, NYK believes it must be positioned "at the forward edge in terms of all these issues, because it's the right thing to do," Keller says.
Vessel pollution is a particular concern for carriers in the U.S. domestic trades, whose ships rarely stray far from shore. Horizon Lines Inc., one of the nation's largest domestic operators, has adopted an environmental initiative called Horizon Green.
The effort extends across the company's ocean-shipping and logistics arms. It focuses on the four key areas of marine environment, emissions, sustainability and carbon offsets. A number of Horizon's programs are geared to comply with provisions of the international Marpol convention for prevention of ship pollution, as well as the International Safety Management Code of the IMO. Sustainability efforts center on such measures as reducing empty rail and truck backhaul miles, cutting back on fossil-fuel consumption and using recycled materials in building containers. The carbon-offset program, known as Aero Green, allows customers to participate in cargo-neutral shipping through the purchase of offsetting environmental credits. It is being offered through the Horizon Logistics subsidiary.
Horizon Lines currently operates a fleet of 21 commercial vessels. The five new vessels that it acquired this year for longer hauls are 35 to 40 percent more efficient in fuel consumption, according to Joe Breglia, vice president and general manager of ocean transportation services. Other efforts include the slowing of vessels, combined with a push for schedule integrity, and the use of low-sulfur fuels in California waters. "On-time arrivals are the primary concern of our customers," Breglia says. "We're knocking down silos between the ships and network-operations folks ... so they know precisely when they need to be there."
Efforts at Dockside
On the port side, industry executives are pushing for global standards that would discourage local jurisdictions from formulating a host of conflicting rules. Earlier this summer, Congress passed a bill to implement international Marpol limits on vessel emissions of NOx, SOx and other types of pollutants. President Bush was expected to sign the measure. The U.S. has been negotiating certain amendments to previous Marpol rules that would further reduce emissions from oceangoing vessels. Those measures are expected to be adopted in October by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of IMO, but the U.S. wouldn't have a final vote unless it ratified them at least three months prior to that date.
The American Association of Port Authorities is among the groups backing the latest Marpol and IMO efforts. "We support the lowering of emissions coming out of vessels, whether en route or at dockside," says AAPA president and chief executive officer Kurt Nagle. At the same time, the organization wants to leave it up to individual ports and regions as to how they will meet the new standards.
AAPA is taking a more active role in cooperation with about a dozen port facilities. Along with the independent Global Environment & Technology Foundation, the group is engaged in a two-year process to develop new environmental management systems for marine terminals. The ports of Los Angeles and Corpus Christi, Tex., are among those that have used the process to gain certification under the international quality specification known as ISO 14001.
When it comes to green efforts by ports and carriers in the U.S., Southern California is the center of attention. The region's high levels of air pollution, combined with the dominant status of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, make it a prime candidate for stricter environmental measures.
The effort with the highest profile-and greatest degree of controversy-is the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), devised in tandem by the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. The $2bn plan targets a 50-percent reduction in harmful emissions from ships, trucks, trains and terminal equipment. But two fees to be charged in connection with the program have drawn fire from industry interests. One is a "Clean Truck Fee" of $35 per loaded twenty-foot equivalent unit (meaning $70 for each 40-foot container), to pay for a $1.6bn program to replace older trucks moving containers in and out of the harbor area. The other is a $15 per TEU "Infrastructure Cargo Fee," to fund $1.4bn in local improvement projects.
Shippers and carriers have charged that the fees violate several laws pertaining to U.S. interstate commerce. They worry that other port areas will follow the example of Los Angeles and Long Beach and impose their own charges, creating a hodgepodge of local shipping fees. It's uncertain whether they will actually come up with the money to mount a legal challenge, however. But one particular aspect of the CAAP-a requirement that independent owner-operators serving the ports go to work for unionized companies that have operating rights in the harbor area-is sure to be fought in the courts. "We will see litigation from the American Trucking Associations with respect to the concession agreement and employee-mandate requirement," says John R. McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), an industry lobbying group. Meanwhile, Port of Los Angeles spokesman Arley Baker insists that the CAAP "is still on track," with a start date of Oct. 1 for the first wave of truck replacements and operating-concession rules.
In California, regulators are attempting to make cold ironing more than an option for vessel owners. The state's Air Resources Board has been moving ahead with rules that would mandate the technique, as well as vessel speed reductions. At the same time, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are building emission-reduction requirements into some of their new terminal leases, although Baker says L.A. prefers to let carriers and terminal operators decide how the targets will be met.
A number of options are available for carriers looking to cut down on vessel emissions at dockside. Los Angeles is installing about 15 AMP stations at its terminals and cruise center, to connect ships with the city's electricity grid. Elsewhere, carriers are exploring the use of portable generators on barges. Yet another idea is a kind of sock, fitted out with scrubbers, that would be placed over the vessel's ship stacks while in port. Similar technology has been employed successfully at Northern California railyards for the exhaust pipes of locomotives, says Baker. For ships, the device would be installed and removed via a special crane.
The two big Southern California ports are also working to convince vessel owners to switch to low-sulfur fuel between 20 and 40 miles from the docks. According to PMSA, the strategy would cut SOx by 11 percent, and diesel particulate matter by 9 percent. To promote the idea, the ports have launched an incentive plan, whereby they subsidize the cost differential between standard bunker fuel and lower-sulfur fuel for 12 months. "So far we've had a pretty strong response," says Baker, noting that approximately 13 ocean carriers had signed up as of early July. They represent 123 vessels making an average of 260 calls per quarter.
The Tacoma Strategy
Up in the Pacific Northwest, environmental programs are taking a different slant. The Port of Tacoma, Wash., is about to launch another wave of container terminal construction, redeveloping large parcels of land that had been used for industrial purposes. Lou Paulsen, chief sustainable development officer, says the port is paying equal attention to economic opportunity and environmental concerns, including the cleanup of toxic materials from former operations.
Tacoma is joining with the rival Port of Seattle, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, American Lung Association and Canadian port interests to craft a new Pacific Northwest Clean Air Strategy. The plan calls for a 70-percent reduction in vessel emissions at dockside between 2005 and 2010, and a 30-percent drop in diesel emissions from cargo-handling equipment. Yet planners aren't specifying how industry should achieve those goals. "We're going to get to a desired outcome faster, because [the strategy] involves a high level of collaboration and allows industry to select from a menu of options," says Paulsen.
Cold ironing is not seen as a strong possibility in the Northwest. Tim Farrell, executive director of the Port of Tacoma, has expressed reservations about the technology. He worries that the cost isn't justified by the benefits, and that vessels unplugging from shore power could spew large amounts of particulate matter at dockside as they fire up their cold diesel plants. In addition, says Paulsen, some developing countries lack the technology necessary to make cold ironing a reality. "It's far better to allow industry to come up with a solution that's more universal," he says, suggesting the use of distillate fuels as an alternative.
In any case, Paulsen is confident that the port will reach its 70-percent target for reduced vessel emissions by 2010. "We are well on our way to achieving that objective," he says. "We have not encountered resistance to this approach."
Similar goals are in place at U.S. East Coast ports, although the strategies may differ. The Virginia Port Authority is working to reduce its environmental footprint in several ways, according to Heather Mantz, director of environmental affairs. As early as 1999, it started an engine-replacement program for cargo-handling equipment. Mantz says the port has sought to implement the highest standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, it switched to ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel three years ahead of a federal mandate. Thanks to the equipment-replacement effort, the port has been able to reduce overall emissions by around 30 percent-despite a 50-percent increase in cargo volume over the past six years.
The effort continued in July with the purchase of three low-emission, hybrid yard locomotives for the on-dock rail operation at Norfolk International Terminals. They will save an estimated $143,000 in annual fuel cost for the terminal operator, while leading to even lower emissions. The hybrid units are expected to result in a reduction in NOx and particulate matter by 80 to 90 percent.
"I think you will see us continue to go more and more to a hybrid-type fleet," says Mantz. "We are switching our straddle carrier fleet to diesel electric. We'll continue to improve our cargo handling with the best available technology."
Also high on VPA's environmental agenda has been its recent ISO 14001 certification for environmental responsibility, making it the first port on the East Coast to achieve that designation, Mantz says.
Ports and ships know that a green strategy means a positive public image, in addition to tangible impacts on the environment. So it isn't surprising that the Container Shipping Information Service (CSIS), a new industry group of shipping lines, chose June 5, World Environment Day, as the date for reaffirming its commitment to environment protection. The group offered a number of recommendations for cutting back on CO2 emissions, including the use of carbon calculators and other metrics to evaluate the impact of freight transport. In addition, CSIS pointed to the advantages of modern containerships, which emit 25 percent less CO2 than vessels of the 1970s that were one-tenth their size.
"CSIS members are committed to maintaining momentum in enhancing their environmental performance," the group said in a statement. Whether ships and ports can achieve sustainable goals before regulators force them to do it remains to be seen.
Horizon Lines, www.horizonline.com
NYK Line, www.nykline.com
Port of Los Angeles, www.portoflosangeles.org
Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, www.pmsaship.com
Port of Tacoma, www.portoftacoma.com
Virginia Port Authority, www.vaports.com
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