A couple of weeks back I promised an update on efforts to control emissions from the ocean-going vessels that visit the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. At our Long Beach port in 2005, 44% of the vessel calls were container ships, carrying the familiar 20- and 40-foot “boxes” we see on our freeways, streets and rail lines. Another 20% were tankers carrying crude oil and refined fuels; only 5% were cruise ships. Ocean-going vessels (abbreviated OGV) were the source of more than fifty percent of the particulate matter emissions from port sources in 2005, and more than 90% of the sulfur oxide emissions.
It’s not technically difficult to control vessel emissions. Many strategies will work. One of the readiest methods is to change from the heavy fuel, called bunker fuel, burned by most vessels, to a lower-sulfur version that will immediately reduce those sulfur oxide emissions. The challenge is actually imposing requirements to make such changes, since action is needed by an international body, the International Maritime Organization or IMO. Even the United States government is limited in its ability to regulate ships from other countries.
Despite these administrative challenges, several steps have been taken, and more are under way, to reduce this large piece of the emissions “pie.” Some shipping companies have voluntarily reduced fuel sulfur well below even current IMO standards – Maersk is a notable example. The California Air Resources Board adopted a new regulation in early December that will require operators of container, passenger and refrigerated cargo vessels at the state’s largest ports to choose one of a number of methods to control emissions. One of the options is to provide shoreside power for vessels at berth, which traditionally rely on auxiliary engines (burning that bunker fuel I mentioned) to keep lights, pumps, and ventilation running. This option, also sometimes called “cold-ironing” or alternative maritime power, can be very expensive, requiring not only a source of power on-shore but retrofits of existing vessels, some of which may not call at the port all that often.
A variation on this strategy is to provide a mobile source of shore power. Right here in Signal Hill, a company called Wittmar Engineering has developed a power generator for this purpose that burns much cleaner natural gas. The system was successfully deployed earlier this year at the Port of Oakland.
Another option is for vessel operators to place what I and some others call a “sock on a stack.” Another Southern California company, ACTI, based in Rancho Dominguez, has developed a mobile emissions control unit with a hood that can be placed over a vessel or locomotive stack to capture and treat the emissions. This system has also been demonstrated on a locomotive in Northern California, and was tested on a vessel this year at the Port of Long Beach.
Through their joint Clean Air Action Plan, the two San Pedro Bay ports are also working to develop a tariff, or rule, during the first quarter of 2008 that would require the use of lower-sulfur, cleaner-burning fuels in vessels, now done only on a voluntary basis. Even the IMO is studying ship emissions, and slowly moving towards more stringent international standards for vessel fuel. It seems that Southern California is not the only place that has a desire to reduce ship emissions.