GreenTech 2021: PIXEL Ports use data to become greener and smarter


A European-funded project is using data visualisation to become the first quantitative index to measure environmental performance from European ports.

The PIXEL Ports scheme, under the banner of the European Union Horizon 2020 initiative, focuses on European ports of all sizes to leverage IoT-based communication to improve all aspects of a port’s functions.

The scheme has deployed the PIXEL Platform, taking in information through FIWARE data models. The data models enhance ease of data portability for different applications including Smart Cities, Smart Environment, and Smart Energy.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive algorithms can be applied to existing data to simulate the impacts of changes ranging anywhere to vessel call operations, cargo movement, future infrastructure investments, and new fuel sourcing.

The four pilot ports in the scheme – Port of Monfalcone, Port of Piraeus, Port of Bordeaux, and Port of Thessaloniki – have been using the internal platform to become smarter.

Building a data baseline

Joao Pita Costa, Project Manager at XLAB – which provides the PIXEL ICT framework – said the platform’s modeling and predictive algorithms application capabilities is born out of the need for a comprehensive data acquisition strategy for the pilot ports.

Joao Pita Costa will be speaking at Port Technology’s GreenTech for Ports & Terminals on 22 and 23 September 2021. Register now!

“There is a baseline of infrastructure that you need to have to be able to collect different kinds of data at the ports that will allow you to measure your output. First of all, you need to have well-defined [priorities] in terms of environmental performance: what data you have coming in, and in what format,” he told PTI.

The platform uses a “plug-and-play data acquisition agent,” Pita Costa continued.

Telecoms company Orange, one of the 15 consortium members part of PIXEL, brings in not just port information systems data – on bills of lading, scheduled bookings, cargo capacity, and historical data, for example – but also on sensor-equipped infrastructure such as port cranes.

Pita Costa noted that the platform takes in swathes of IoT information inside the port, such as straddle carrier emissions output, or truck dwell time waiting for containers.

Outside of the port complex, port operatives can receive information from vessel AIS, vessel calls, and satellite imagery. Better knowledge of Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and departure will improve supply chain efficiency by integrating this data with inland logistics chains.

Data visualisation

Through digital twin technologies, being able to simulate and visually project how changes to a port – such as a surge in traffic in the nearby highway system, or a fault to a terminal trucking gate – impacts environmental output can be invaluable to long-term port planning.

“The platform brings a digital twin feeling because we are able to perform simulation and planning environmental pollution, which we can customise to computational models,” Pita Costa said.

“What is quite important is the COVID-19 model. We’re helping to address and show port authorities and terminals how they can manage their capacities relative to [events like] pandemics,” Pita Costa noted.

At the Port of Piraeus, for example, PIXEL can visually monitor the CO2 consumption, time berthing, waste disposal, passenger and cargo account, and several other properties of a vessel entering a port.

The result is a smarter terminal operator team at Piraeus, reducing potential errors, improving inland connectivity, and driving down carbon emissions.

This element of the PIXEL platform is a growing tool for ports in reducing emissions. In April 2021, the Danish Port of Esbjerg spoke to PTI on the benefits of a similar data visualisation scheme to reduce carbon emissions.

Where to start?

There is great excitement on the potential benefits data visualisation and predictive algorithms can provide for a port, Pita Costa said.

However, there is still some way to go: a lack of standardisation and fledgling state of data harnessing technologies has resulted in a lack of proven use cases so far.

Looking across European ports, Pita Costa said many ports are “not efficient in the way data is collected and integrated.”

Differing interests, ownership structures, and business models means that ports are at different levels of digitalisation through sensory infrastructure and port information systems, which has led Pita Costa to call for a clear-minded strategy from port authorities and terminals in data acquisition.

“Everybody talks about the digital transformation environment on the maritime industry, but there’s a lack of discussion on how ready we are at each level. We are not all at the same point,” he said.

“Automation of data collection is very important, but also the access to that data, because sometimes a port does not own that data. [Ports] want to have data they can own, access, and measure, so you are able to computerise, plan, and become smarter.”

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