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Crowley Sponsored Series

Decarbonizing the Maritime Industry

The Port of the Future: A Vision for Cleaner, Low-Carbon Seaports

Efforts are underway by companies and governments to lessen the environmental impact of seaports, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Ports Initiative stated goal for U.S ports to be global leaders in clean, efficient freight and passenger transportation.
By 3p Editors
Crowley port of the future graphic

Seaports in the United States are economic powerhouses: They employ 31 million people, account for 26-percent of the nation’s overall economy and generate $5.4 trillion in economic activity. For every billion dollars in exports shipped through U.S. seaports, 15,000 jobs are created.

But they are also part of communities, and they have an opportunity to play a major role in helping improve air quality through emissions reduction, especially at the largest ports in the U.S. 

Understanding the environmental impact of seaports

When compared to aviation and trucking, ocean shipping remains the most environmentally efficient means of cargo transportation. However, on-shore environmental impacts remain a challenge, due to particulate and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both vessels and related road traffic congestion. The local public health impacts from pollutants generated at seaports and other industrial areas disproportionately affect the typically lower-income communities which neighbor them. These communities suffer from elevated levels of cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, increased rates of asthma, and too frequently, developmental disorders in children.

Efforts are underway by companies and governments to lessen the environmental impact of seaports, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Ports Initiative stated goal for U.S ports to be global leaders in clean, efficient freight and passenger transportation.

A vision for the “port of the future”

Port operators also have a vested interest in modernizing ports for a cleaner future. Crowley, a U.S. maritime, logistics and energy solutions company, is innovating in this space, envisioning a “port of the future” with a focus on decarbonizing its port operations. 

Crowley has committed to achieving net-zero emissions across all areas of its business and operations by 2050, playing a leadership role as stewards of the environment as well as serving customers and communities.

“The reduction of both global greenhouse gas emissions and local community environmental impacts is at the core of our 2050 initiative,” said Matt Jackson, vice president of Crowley’s Advanced Energy division. “To achieve this requires the collaborative working efforts of many stakeholders such as ports, local community, regulators and our customers.”

So, what is Crowley’s vision for ports? Jackson described the broad outline like this: 

The port of the future is an ecosystem of different net-zero solutions that provides and supports all the activities in the port — and works together with all port stakeholders.

To this end, Crowley is forging important industry partnerships at ports across the U.S. to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions.

In 2022, Senesco Marine — a major builder of barges, tugboats and other marine vessels in the U.S. Northeast — selected Crowley to undertake design verification and production packaging for a new hybrid-electric passenger ferry. Due to go into service this year, the new ferry will carry passengers and vehicles to the islands of Casco Bay from Portland, Maine. It will replace an existing diesel-powered ferry and is projected to avoid 800 tons of carbon emissions annually.

And later this year, Crowley will begin testing Class 8 long-haul trucks for Terraline, an autonomous-ready electric truck company. With an expected 500-plus mile range, the zero-emissions trucks are slated to service Crowley’s Florida facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Miami.

Within their port operations, Crowley is making strides to reduce air pollution at the development phase of the Salem Offshore Wind Terminal, which will service offshore wind operations across New England. Through the process of cold ironing, which allows vessels to plug directly into port electricity, rather than idling on diesel while in port, Crowley will enable certain vessels pulling up to the terminal to significantly reduce air pollution and particulate emissions within the port and neighboring areas.

In addition, Crowley recently broke ground on a microgrid-based shoreside charging station at the Port of San Diego which will fast-charge the company’s forthcoming eWolf electric tugboat, the first vessel of its kind in the U.S. The charger’s design allows it to draw energy from solar and the traditional grid via the microgrid, reducing loads on the local energy grid at peak times.

These are just a few of the sustainable enhancements Crowley is making to their shoreside operations. “We are constantly evaluating technology by creating our own research and development team to evaluate and test [hybrid and alternative energy vessels],” Jackson said.

With net-zero goals top-of- mind, “we have established Crowley Advanced Energy to support the development of renewable energy solutions to bring ample power to the grid edge in support of maritime electrification efforts.”

Looking toward existing technology to work toward the port of the future, today

As Crowley works toward the port of the future, it's already taking steps with tried and tested technology that is already available in its existing ports. 

The company’s work at the Port of Jacksonville, Florida (JAXPORT) offers a real-world proving ground. “Our initiatives to modernize JAXPORT are a part of the broader transition to low-emission ports — using the infrastructure we have to get where we need to go, and identifying gaps to meet the challenges of this technology transition,” Jackson said. 

Among those efforts is an initiative dubbed JAXPORT EXPRESS (Exemplifying Potential to Reduce Emissions with Sustainable Solutions). “[The] project will enable us to procure zero-emission cargo handling equipment and install high-power DC fast-charging infrastructure to enable further adoption and utilization of that zero-emission handling equipment,” Jackson explained. And though it’s a stepping stone in the journey to net-zero, “it is a giant leap forward for our own operations and for ports in the South,” he said.

From microgrids to carbon sequestration

Crowley sees microgrids as an important component of its port operations. They can be utilized during peak grid demand hours and help balance the distribution of power between the microgrid and local grid — in effect dovetailing with grid demand-response efforts. Although some energy sources for the microgrid might be fossil fuel-based (such as LNG), for cost effectiveness and reliability reasons, they can also incorporate renewables such as solar, as well as wind and hydrogen. Fuels such as LNG can be transitionary sources while infrastructure, technology and supply chains mature, so later, renewable natural gas (RNG) can be used, such as in Crowley’s JAXPORT terminal.

The microgrids and charging stations can then power electrified port vessels, trucks, yard equipment, and cars while acting as local resilience hubs and even putting energy back into the grid.

Given that fossil fuels remain a necessary part of the vehicle fuel mix in the near term, Crowley is also actively working to capture emissions from vessels at the source.

“We are participating with our partner Carbon Ridge, a leading developer of maritime decarbonization technologies and solutions, in a pilot to test and validate the effectiveness of carbon capture on vessels,” Jackson said. “We hope to pilot carbon capture in 2024 and then determine how to roll it out to our fleet.”

Government support is needed to help port modernization scale up

Important to all these initiatives are not just Crowley’s efforts, but also partnerships, funding and in, large part, government support.

For example, JAXPORT EXPRESS received a grant from the Port Infrastructure Development Program, administered by the U.S. Maritime Administration. This program was established by Congress and former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010, more recently received funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2022. 

Efforts supported by the grant include the deployment of 160 refrigerated cargo charging stations (so-called reefer plugs), allowing temperature-controlled container cooling to be achieved without the use of diesel power.

Funding for specific projects like this “is incredibly important to continue to grow and scale sustainably,” Jackson said. "Not only will the funding allow Crowley to add zero-emissions equipment, but it also supports America’s zero-emissions manufacturing capabilities generally.”

And while regulations are often blamed for inhibiting industry objectives, in this case, Crowley identified where regulations would help the maritime sector compete with other modes of transportation, such as improving and expanding utilization of the nation’s 25,000-plus miles of inland waterways.

All hands-on deck

As Crowley continues to invest in new technology and updates vessels and operations to reduce emissions, Jackson stressed that "Crowley and our fellow port and maritime stakeholders cannot bear the entirety of the risk in advancing low- and zero-emission technologies. We will continue to look to our government partners to support these efforts and ensure the United States technological, environmental and innovation leadership.”

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

Image courtesy of Crowley

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