In late January I had the chance to attend a presentation at the Port of Long Beach that highlighted two success stories arising from the ports’ joint Technology Advancement Program (TAP).  This program is part of the ports’ Clean Air Action Plan and provides funding to help deploy new emission control technologies in various applications around the harbor.  Both ports contribute funds to the TAP.

One of the highlighted technologies I’ve already written about:  the so-called “sock on a stack,” or Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System.  A flexible hood is lowered over a vessel stack and the resulting emissions are ducted directly to a highly effective control system that reduces all the major pollutants by over 90 percent.  The TAP funding helped ACTI, the AMECS manufacturer, to conduct a full test of the system on a cargo vessel.  

TAP assistance also helped ACTI navigate the complex system of evaluation, testing, and verification by state and local air quality regulatory agencies.  While we all want new ways of controlling emissions to be adopted and deployed just as quickly as possible, it’s still necessary (and reasonable) for these agencies to verify that they work as intended.  Port staff say that they continue to work with the U.S. EPA, the state Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to “streamline the process for reaching consensus on the performance of the technology.”  That does not sound easy.

The other highlighted technology innovation was the deployment on January 23 of the “Caroline Dorothy,” a first-of-its-kind hybrid electric tugboat developed by Foss Maritime, a key tug operator in the San Pedro Bay.  Foss’s presenter emphasized that this was the world’s first hybrid tug:  it has technology similar to that in a Toyota Prius, using a combination of electric motor and traditional marine engine propulsion to achieve large gains in operating efficiency.  Tugs occasionally need maximum power, where traditional engines are most efficient – but not very often.  Thus they spend most of their time in an inefficient power range, burning extra fuel needlessly.  The hybrid design overcomes that problem.  Another positive is that the tug’s batteries can be recharged from shore power.

According to Foss’s presentation, emissions of NOx and PM from the Caroline Dorothy are down 44% compared to traditional tugs; SOx and the greenhouse gas CO2 are down 20 – 30%.  Financial assistance from the TAP enabled Foss to offset the additional capital cost to build the new kind of tug, and helped to finance testing.  In sum the ports provided well over $1 million in funding, which was instrumental in getting the project over the company’s threshold rate of return for undertaking the project.

I think these examples amply demonstrate the value of the TAP – a measurable financial commitment by the ports to advancing promising technologies.  It was quite clear that neither of these technologies would have been deployed without the ports’ assistance.  This program – and other investments like it, whether by government agencies or private companies – will only become more influential as other sources of funding tighten with the shrinking economy.

The investment also shows, unfortunately, the magnitude of the problem we face with our historic investment in fossil fuels.  A substantial financial boost contributed to the introduction of one tug with emissions that are substantially lower, but still not zero.  To me this simply says we need to keep going, one success story at a time.  Foss’s presentation pointed out that they are learning from experience and will likely be able to improve on the design in subsequent vessels.  I hope the ports are able to maintain their respective commitments to the TAP so that Foss and other innovators can continue moving emissions in the right direction – downward.