Author: U.S. Gain
U.S. Gain

Port Decarbonization: Factors Driving Adoption and Implementation

It’s no secret that transportation emissions affect surrounding communities by subjecting them to  extensive pollution. Emissions from maritime and port operations are no different. In fact, the increase in shipping and congestion near major seaports has resulted in growing pressure to find decarbonization solutions, especially with strict, looming deadlines on the horizon. If you’re finding these directives on your desk and they leave you with many unanswered questions, you’re not alone. Keep reading to better understand what solutions can help you navigate these new priorities.

Why Target the Ports?

Ports are under scrutiny because they feature a very consolidated area for vehicles to go in and out of –leading to congestion and idling that results in some of the greatest emissions of any sector. Additionally, the areas in which ports are situated are often heavily populated in surrounding neighborhoods, creating significant air quality issues for residents.

Requiring policy changes and adoption of more alternative, clean fueling options would have a significant impact within these areas – but, how does port decarbonization really take shape? And what actions are needed from a global sustainability movement to combat emissions and accelerate progress towards a greener shipping sector? Even with today’s supply chain challenges and lack of technology readiness, there are still many avenues to help start the process of lowering emissions today.

Policies Driving Port Decarbonization

State and federal policies have a unique opportunity to accelerate port decarbonization. Recently, fleets that adopt zero-emission (ZE) fuels and technology have been given an advantage in ports. For example, to support a goal of 100% ZE truck fleets by 2035, the Port of Long Beach will start collecting its Clean Truck Fund Rate on April 1, 2022 – meaning fleets will be charged at a rate of $10 per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) for all non-exempt vehicles.

While zero-emission technology will play a major role in port decarbonization, we also need policymakers to adjust legislation to reflect current market state – allowing for scaled adoption of those technologies that aren’t ready just yet. However, it should be remembered there are scaled, proven solutions, such as renewable natural gas (RNG), on the market right now. In a major positive step forward for fleets, policymakers have recognized that RNG is indeed part of the solution – allowing fleets to continue using it without fees, as a transitional step to zero-emission vehicle technology.

The Port of Seattle also set an aggressive decarbonization plan that was recently modified to accelerate its efforts by 10 years. The new goals would mean that emissions from Port activity (both direct and indirect) will be decreased 50% by 2030 and net-zero by 2040 when compared to its 2005 benchmark. In addition, Port-influenced emissions will have to decrease 50% by 2030 and be net-zero by 2050 in comparison to 2007 levels.

Available Funding to Support Adoption

Fleets are instructed to change how they’ve always operated to accommodate new technology types – but this transition is accompanied by a costly price tag, often hindering adoption. However, having state and federal incentives for fleets operating in port serving regions could solve for this concern.

Grant programs such as the TERP Seaport and Rail Yard Areas Emission Reduction (SPRY) Program are becoming more readily available to help encourage the replacement of high emission fleet vehicles with new models. Additionally, credit generation from clean fuel programs enables fleets to be paid for using alternative fuels in select regions. Though, to accelerate fleets’ transition to ZE technology, whether that be electric or hydrogen, policymakers will need to prioritize incentivization of ZE technology – alleviating the upfront total cost of conversion.  

 Alternative Fueling Options for Fleets

The vehicles transporting shipments in and out of the ports, whether vans, forklifts, yard trucks, or beyond, are significant greenhouse gas (GHG) contributors. From picking up and dropping off shipments in the ports to transporting these loads across the country, these vehicles are often energy inefficient – equating to compounding amounts of pollution. The ability to decarbonize these fleets working in and around port serving regions would significantly improve air quality and help advance the transition to a clean fuel economy.

It is essential that equipment manufacturers continue to build out and deploy vehicle models at scale – prioritizing zero-emission models as well as proven solutions such as RNG, so fleets can begin acting on mandated port decarbonization targets. However, roll out of zero emission technology will look different for ports depending on vehicle model. For vans and forklifts, fleet operators can already begin electrifying them or using hydrogen models in certain applications.

On the heavy-duty vehicle front, the City of Los Angeles has pledged to achieve 100% zero-emission Class 8 truck operations by 2035 through their Clean Truck Zero Emission Funding Program. This program would impact fleet sizes varying from individual owner-operators to large corporate fleets. As fleets wait for electric and hydrogen models to move beyond their prototype and limited commercial availability phase, RNG remains a great opportunity to accelerate port decarbonization, today. It’s readily available and a proven solution fleets can depend on as they await further zero emission deployments.

Port Participation

There are a growing number of ports on the West Coast prioritizing decarbonization strategies and setting deadlines to accelerate their emission reduction efforts – including the Port of Seattle, the Port of Long Beach, and the Port of Los Angeles, to name a few. Though, for the impact to be widespread, more fleets need to lean into the energy transition, looking to alternative fuels for the current, and future fueling strategies of their fleet. Additionally, more ports need to join in and share their lessons learned and success stories – helping others recognize that decarbonization is possible and not as difficult as they may believe.

Identifying, deploying, and adopting solutions that work for your various port serving applications can seem daunting, though it doesn’t have to. For assistance navigating this ever-changing landscape, guidance on fueling, vehicle, and grant applications, or a transparent partnership for all things clean fuel, reach out!

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