Home System concept How hooking up offshore freighters could cut pollution

How hooking up offshore freighters could cut pollution


The pandemic has revealed serious weaknesses in the global supply chain, causing cargo ships to be backed up at seaports around the world. While consumers have experienced rising prices and severe delivery delays, the problem has also led to a disconcerting increase in ship emissions in congested ports.

In the United States, the problem has been particularly severe at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest maritime complex in the Western Hemisphere, where up to 70 ships at a time are often idle at sea, waiting to enter the port. According to the California Air Resources Board, over the past two years, ships using Southern California ports have released an additional 20 tons of smog-inducing nitrogen oxides into the air every day. The report concludes that this is equivalent to adding 5.8 million passenger cars to the region.

To help tackle the problem and reduce pollution beyond the pandemic era, Danish shipping conglomerate Maersk announced a new project this week to reduce the amount of air pollution emitted by idling ships. Their solution is to use charging buoys connected to undersea power cables that connect to land-based renewable energy sources such as wind farms and other green energy sources. The new venture is being developed by a subsidiary of Maersk called Stillstrom (meaning “quiet power” in Danish).

Floating a buoy, for now

The group says it will launch a test site off Norway later this year in partnership with a Danish renewable energy company, Orsted. The buoy could be operational by the third quarter of this year, said Sebastian Klasterer Toft, venture capital program manager at Stillstrom. Maersk first revealed the idea in fall 2020, saying its goal was to extend the benefits of shore power to sea.

[Related: Why a record number of container ships are backed up off the coast of California]

“Our vision is that, following proof of concept, within five years of commercialization we will be at around 50 to 100 ports, including those with nearby wind farms,” Toft says. “This will be equivalent to displacing 5.5 million tonnes of CO2.” (That’s an amount roughly equal to the carbon output of about 11 million barrels of oil.) “It also removes all of the particulate pollution associated with idle ships,” Toff added.

Although the company does not comment on which ports it speaks with, it did acknowledge that the United States is in its sights. “The East and West Coasts [of the] The United States and Canada are areas of great interest to us,” says Toff.

“If it works, I think it will be a big step forward for ships that can access electrical power instead of running their auxiliary engines, because then you go to zero emissions both at sea and at dock. .”

David Pettit, Senior Counsel at NRDC

Toff also noted that the system will not be exclusive to Maersk. “It’s very important for us to emphasize that it’s not just for our ships,” he says. “It’s for the world’s maritime fleet.”

The shipping industry is a major source of carbon emissions and has long been targeted by environmental groups for its lack of action on reducing carbon emissions. Overall, shipping is thought to account for around 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 10% of transport emissions, and the industry is currently far from meeting the Paris climate agreement targets. .

Pandemic-induced supply chain grunts have drawn attention to ship emissions near ports, although the problem has been around for decades. But never before have so many ships been stranded outside ports around the world. At the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the problem has been going on for over a year. According to data from the Ocean Exchange, on Tuesday January 25, a total of 27 container ships were anchored offshore.

How will it work

While moored in port, ships typically connect to shore cables and shore power sources to maintain operations while they load and unload cargo. Most modern container ships have this capability. But when the harbor is full, ships often wait at anchor in the open sea and use auxiliary engines to provide power for critical onboard functions such as refrigeration, radars, radios, lighting and air circulation. fresh water and salt water. Although less polluting than main engines, these engines still generate significant emissions and ships can wait days or even weeks to enter port.

While many ports, such as those in Southern California, require idling ships to use cleaner fuels while at anchor, the amount of pollution created is still significant and potentially harmful to human health. In Los Angeles, studies have shown that compounds released by ship emissions are linked to high rates of asthma, cancer and other problems in poor communities near ports. Of course, the problem is global, with many port cities facing unprecedented traffic in large part due to increased demand for goods and Covid-related choke points in Asia where most of the manufactured are made.

“It continues to impact the health of millions of people around the world and lead to many unnecessary deaths and debilitating lung problems,” said Paul Blomerus, executive director of Clear Seas, a nonprofit research center. lucrative in Canada. greener shipping practices.

[Related: The ship blocking the Suez is finally unstuck, but we could see bottlenecks like this again]

Some conservation groups applauded Maersk’s announcement – which would mean ships with access to an electric buoy could plug into the mains and turn off their engines, even when not docked – but with warnings. keep.

“If it works, I think it will be a big step forward for ships that can access electrical power instead of running their auxiliary engines, because then you go to zero emissions both at sea and at dock. “says David Pettit, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Pettit also wondered if the system would be big enough to really tackle the problem. “It could have [an] impact, but there are a lot of operational issues that should be addressed, not the least of which is how you would deal with so many ships with a number of buoys at the same time.

Toff, from Stillstrom, says that while the pilot in Norway will consist of a single buoy on a single cable, the system plan will be multiple buoys attached to a single power line extending from the shore.

Others note that progress often comes in small steps and that the shipping industry has recently been much more aware of its emissions responsibilities; this project is just one of many in which the maritime industry is trying to be more responsible.

“The trajectory has changed markedly,” says Blomerus, of Clear Seas. “There is certainly a lot more willingness to take on the decarbonization challenge than there was three years ago.”