The Healthy Port Communities Coalition
Port of Long Beach Technology Tour
The expansion of the Panama Canal is predicted to increase freight through the Houston region by 56% by 2035. While the increase in freight will likely be a boon to our economy, without planning, it will lead to increased congestion and pollution. As it stands, diesel pollution kills about 21,000 people per year in the US. Diesel vehicles emit NOx and particulate matter, both of which contribute to the formation of ground level ozone and lead to respiratory issues. These emissions can affect the most vulnerable among us, as well as increase the burden on the taxpayers as uninsured people seek treatment for asthma attacks and other health issues.
However…solutions are already here to reduce diesel pollution. Below we describe a recent visit to Long Beach, CA, where we saw a zero emissions container terminal in action, as well as stack bonnet emissions capture technology for idling ships.
The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) advocates for clean ports and goods movement around the Houston Ship Channel. In January, we took a delegation of portside community residents, elected officials, public health advocates, and industry representatives to visit the Long Beach Container Terminal, the world’s first all-automated, all-electric port which has taken steps to eliminate diesel and mandate the use of shore power for all visiting ships.
A Zero Emissions, Automated Container Terminal
At full capacity, the Long Beach Container Terminal will handle more than 3 million TEUs (twenty foot equivalency units) a year. The Long Beach Container Terminal itself is so large that it ranks above the Port of Oakland in size. Perhaps even more remarkable, the terminal is 100% electric and 100% automated. All of the cranes and trucks are electric, using a combination of batteries and grid power. Ships that visit the terminal are required to shut off their diesel engines and plug into the terminal grid for electric power. Efficiency is improved because of the automation, and the LBCT processes more containers than its peers and is able to send fewer containers away empty than most port terminals. The president of the LBCT admitted to us that their negotiations with the union had been difficult. Automating the terminal had indeed cost some of the traditional port jobs, including truck drivers and longshoreman. But the Port of Long Beach engaged with these unions early in the process and provided educational and job training opportunities that allowed many displaced workers to take advantage of new employment options created by the new terminal. When all was said and done, employment in the region increased due to the additional economic activity made possible by the new port terminal.
Stack Bonnet Technology Reduces Ship Pollution by 97%
We were then introduced to stack bonnet technology, a pollution control technology that reduces NOx pollution by 97%. This system has been described as a “vacuum cleaner the size of a house.” It was designed to address the problem of air pollution emitted by the stacks of marine vessels. Marine vessels use some of the dirtiest fuel available today, and although the worst fuel can no longer be used within 200 miles of the coast, marine vessels are still a massive source of air pollution.
This system offers an elegant solution to this problem. A vacuum system is housed on a barge that can travel to meet ships that have arrived at the port. A device called a “stack bonnet” is placed over the smokestacks of the visiting ship. The house-sized vacuum cleaner is activated, sucking up all of the ship’s emissions. These air pollution emissions are filtered, and treated air is released to the atmosphere. With this system in place, a visiting ship can eliminate much of its air pollution emissions.
Texas has been a global leader in the energy economy and we don’t want to risk being left behind. The future of good movement is electric, and the future of electricity is renewable energy. Texas can take advantage of programs like the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) and the upcoming VW Settlement Funds to reduce emissions and establish a foundation for electric freight transport. Long Beach has already charted its path to a zero emissions future, and we hope that our Texas ports can do the same.