Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

3p Editors headshot

Crowley Sponsored Series

Decarbonizing the Maritime Industry

Crowley Puts the Pieces Together for a Decarbonized Maritime Industry

Decarbonizing the maritime industry will involve a host of clean technologies that complement each other in efficient, economical systems. The U.S. maritime and logistics company, Crowley, illustrates how that can be accomplished.
By 3p Editors
Crowley eWolf electric tugboat - Decarbonizing the Maritime Industry

Decarbonizing the maritime industry will involve a host of clean technologies that complement each other in efficient, economical systems. It also requires stakeholders to replace a transactional business model with a more collaborative one. The U.S. maritime and logistics company, Crowley, illustrates how that can be accomplished.

One small tugboat, one big difference

A look at the Port of San Diego in California illustrates just how many pieces need to come together to reduce maritime emissions. The port includes 34 miles of shoreline that spans the cities of Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego, in addition to public parks and a sprawling maritime industry that hosts trucks, trains, cranes and other logistics equipment, including ships of all kinds.

In terms of fleet size, Crowley’s role in generating carbon emissions in the port might appear to be a small one. The company currently operates two tugboats there: the 4,400-horsepower Tioga and the 4,800-horsepower Scout, both of which are less than 100 feet long.

However, the numbers hide a bigger picture. In terms of emissions per vessel, tugboats can play an outsized role in seaport air quality. That’s because tugboats are almost constantly in motion, traditionally burning diesel fuel all the while. 

As an alternative, Crowley estimates that its eWolf all-electric tugboat will replace 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel with electricity annually when it commences operation in the Port of San Diego next year. Over the span of 10 years, that savings will avoid 178 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions and 2.5 tons of airborne diesel particles, helping to significantly improve local air quality. Crowley also estimates that the eWolf could eliminate approximately 3,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over a 10-year period. 

The eWolf is currently under construction by the firm Master Boat Builders, with the battery and electric system provided by ABB.

Electrification beyond the boat

Electrifying tugboat transport is part of a broader effort. Crowley says it has taken a holistic approach to watercraft electrification. Instead of simply zeroing out emissions from the boat itself, the company also folded the power supply chain into its decarbonization plans.

“We want to get to ports that are sustainable and off the grid,” Paul Manzi, vice president, Crowley Shipping, told TriplePundit. “It doesn’t do any good to move carbon emissions inland.”

That’s a good point. The U.S. still leans heavily on natural gas and coal for power generation. Fleet operators that can move off-grid, or shift their electricity demand to off-peak hours, can help reduce overall dependence on fossil energy.

Rather than recharging the eWolf’s 6-megawatt battery pack directly from the grid, Crowley plans to recharge the tugboat from a dockside battery installation. The 3-megawatt dockside battery will be recharged during off-peak hours, assisted by a 75-kilowatt solar array. Additional plans include expanding the solar array to 500 kilowatts, enabling the dockside battery to recharge itself off-grid.

That off-grid capability will become increasingly important as other features of the port electrify. In September, for example, the Port of San Diego received a grant for electrical upgrades related to the installation of two new all-electric cranes. The port also signed an agreement with the U.S. Navy, under which the Navy will plug into dockside power sources instead of burning fuel to run their ships’ electrical systems while at anchor.

Collaboration is key

Automakers have already discovered that electrification enables them to collaborate with other stakeholders to offer a full package of energy-related services, in terms of interacting with the grid, with off-grid resources, and with homes and other buildings.

Crowley foresees a similar evolution taking place in the maritime industry. “We are giving you a platform upon which you can grow in port electrification,” Manzi explained. “The maritime industry has been pretty independently competitive, so the big surprise in this whole area is the collaboration in new ways.”

Crowley’s work with Shell is a good example of next-level collaboration. The two companies previously worked together to design, build and operate a new bunker barge to carry liquified natural gas. Under a new memorandum of understanding, the companies will focus more intensively on electrification. That includes the new eWolf charging station at the Port of San Diego, as well as other locations.

“Shell and Crowley are continuing to look more broadly at how they can jointly develop sustainable solutions across the U.S. maritime sector, possibly including lower-emissions vessels and technology at ports across the West, Gulf and East Coast regions and electrification and net-zero solutions at terminals,” Crowley explained in an announcement earlier this year. 

“Shell’s experience and expertise across the energy value chain allows our teams to draw from a deep playbook of integrated maritime solutions, from safe operations to new technology,” Maarten Poort, Shell’s General Manager for Shipping & Maritime in the Americas told TriplePundit. “Shell is working across the entire maritime ecosystem, and with leaders like Crowley, to apply innovative solutions.”

A window into the future

The eWolf incorporates intelligent operations systems that enhance the safety of the vessel and crew and leverage autonomous technology for more efficiency. Manzi adds that it foretells the next generation of technology for how vessels and crews will leverage technological advances for cleaner, more efficient and better shipping and port services, whether it’s the energy source or the control of vessels.

As Manzi notes, sailing and rowing provided maritime power for thousands of years, until steam and diesel took over. That transition lasted only a few decades. The shift to diesel-electric took only a few years. All indications point to another rapid transition within the electrification area.

“As with all our future-focused projects, we’ll continue to explore new, better, and more sustainable ways to create and power our vessels,” Manzi said.  “The methods we use to create the electricity itself, for example, will probably go through several evolutions. We’re creating solutions that aren’t fixed, but flexible.”  

This article series is sponsored by Crowley and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Crowley

3p Editors headshot

TriplePundit editors offer news and insights on sustainable business.

Read more stories by 3p Editors