Port of Long Beach to test promising technology to reduce ship emissions


** Guest blog post written by NRDC intern Danielle Hesse **

The Port of Long Beach (POLB) today is very different from the Port of Long Beach in 2005, before the adoption of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). Since the adoption of the CAAP, the Port can now boast several environmental policies and significant drops in many toxic emissions. However, there is still plenty more to be done, as port operations still emit high levels of asthma- and cancer-causing air pollution. Accordingly, Harbor Commission President Doug Drummond in a recent press release voiced his goal to “become a zero-emissions port.”

The laudable results already achieved can be attributed to improvements made to several of the different modes of transportation used at the Port, including emission reductions from locomotives, trucks, and ocean going vessels (OGVs). Despite some successful efforts to reduce emissions from OGVs, the ships remain one of the hardest pollution sources to address. Over the years, both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have found some effective ways to try and get at this problem, including the Green Flag Vessel Speed Reduction Program, which gives dock rate reductions when ships voluntarily reduce their speed to 12 knots or less within 40 nautical miles of the entrance to the harbor, as slower speeds result in less air pollution. Another example is the Port’s Green Ship Award Program, which gives shipping companies funds for each call that utilizes a ship with a cleaner engine.

The most well-known example is shore power, which was one of the measures outlined in the CAAP in 2006. This measure requires ships to plug into a land-based electricity source while at the dock to avoid having to run their auxiliary engines to power the ship while it is being unloaded. While this initiative has been successful in that it does effectively reduce emissions for the ships plugging in—and, not to mention, the California Air Resources Board expanded this requirement to all of California—it is still limited in that not all ships are equipped to be able to plug in. OGVs are still, by far, the biggest polluters of each recorded toxin. At the Port, OGVs are responsible for over half of the diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions, and carry the blame for virtually ALL of the sulfur oxide emissions (99.2%)!

In order to find alternatives to shore power that would apply more broadly to more vessel calls, the Port issued a Request for Information in October 2010 and followed up with a Request for Proposals in 2011, and was most impressed by the Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System (AMECS) proposal from Advanced Cleanup Technologies Inc. (ACTI). The Port had already been working with ACTI since 2006 on a “sock on a stack” AMECS; this technology was wharf-based and used a crane to place a large bonnet over all of the exhaust stacks at the same time. ACTI’s new proposal was to modify the “sock on a stack” in two ways: first, they wanted to make it barge-based rather than wharf-based, and second, they wanted to directly connect to each exhaust stack rather than covering them all simultaneously. This technological strategy allows ships to run their engines while docked and produce their own energy, while trapping air emissions in a filter-and-treatment device. This approach can be used on ships that aren’t equipped to be able to plug in for shore power.

Photo by Advanced Cleanup Technologies, Inc.

In July 2013, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the $2,063,624 budget for the demonstration project. On February 10, 2014, the Harbor Commissioners approved an agreement between the POLB and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to test the AMECS technology. Under the agreement, the POLB will foot the entirety of the bill and the AQMD will supervise and analyze the results of the demonstration project. The demonstration project will be comprised of two phases – Phase 1, “proof of concept,” and Phase 2, demonstration and vessel emissions testing. The many steps in Phase 1 will involve preparing the site and facilities, assembling and calibrating the technology, and the testing of the emission capture system (ECS) to the exhaust stacks of two vessels. The goal of Phase 1 is to ensure that the ECS involved in the direct connection method is successful and practical to execute, as well as determine the safety of a barge-based system. Once these concerns have been addressed satisfactorily, Phase 2 will begin. Phase 2 will include full-scale operations of AMECS with emissions testing, assessment, and reporting. This process is required to test between 25 and 36 vessels for a minimum of 1,000 hours.

We are thrilled that the POLB and AQMD are working together and moving forward with further testing of this promising technology. We look forward to the demonstration results and we hope that the direct connect AMECS will be able to bring cleaner air to the local community, which has for much too long suffered the burden of breathing dirty, polluted air from ships running their engines while at dock.