Clean commerce: How fuel cells help keep port emissions at bay



Ryan Skukowski, policy analyst, Fuel Cells 2000, Washington D.C., US


Environmental regulation of port activity

Large, commercial ports around the world number in the hundreds, and all of them move goods as an essential part of the global economy. Ports bring vital economic activity to a region, but they also contribute a great deal of pollution to the surrounding area. From hauling ships to lifting containers, port activity is extremely energy intensive, causing heavy emissions as well as noise and light pollution. Ocean going ships, tug boats, yard vehicles, and container movers are some of the major culprits of these emissions, which include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds.

In the US, ports continue to expand, but now face a variety of regulations designed to limit their environmental impact. In 2004, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate the nitrogen oxide emissions from large Category 3 marine engines and four years later did the same for small marine engines. The cumulative effect of these regulations was an 80 percent reduction in emissions from marine diesel engines. Since then, the EPA has tightened its standards on off road diesel engines, rail engines, fuel quality, and more, prompting several US states to do the same.

A technological shift

The shift toward stricter regulation is quickly changing the technological landscape at a number of these ports. At the Port of Long Beach, California, new environmental incentives include a program to encourage ships to plug in to shore power when docked. On the east coast, the Ports of New York and New Jersey incentivize operators of trucks and ocean going vessels to switch to cleaner fuels and EPA emissions compliant engines. At the Port of Miami, Florida, electrification of gantry cranes is taking place on a large-scale, replacing diesel engine power systems and reducing noise and emissions at the same time. International ports are taking similar measures to improve their environmental profile. From Gothenburg Port in Sweden, where a system of rail shuttles has replaced a number of short distance drayage trucks, to Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, where eight diesel powered gantry cranes are undergoing electrification, regulatory pressures and a growing acceptance among the shipping industry for sustainable practices is driving technology upgrades designed to cut emissions to zero at ports around the world.

The potential for fuel cells

One technology that holds great potential to clean up port activity is fuel cells. Part of a family of technologies, fuel cells generate energy through an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, a process that is inherently clean and efficient. The only emissions from fuel cells are water and heat, both of which can be recovered and put to use. Fuel cells already meet or exceed environmental standards set by the EPA for emissions, efficiency, and noise. At ports, they could become an attractive alternative to diesel generators to meet a variety of applications and power needs.

Current activity in Finland

Vuosaari Harbor at the Port of Helsinki, Finland, is one location where the potential of fuel cells is being demonstrated today through the Demo2013 project. A joint effort among leading Finnish companies and research institutions, Demo2013 will demonstrate fuel cells in a variety of applications aiding electricity delivery, cargo handling, communications, and logistics, and allow the companies involved to test and market their products in a working environment. The project began in August 2011 and will continue through the second half of 2013.

Playing a major role at the port will be a 50 kilowatt, solid oxide fuel cell system from Finnish manufacturer Wärtsilä. The system will feed electricity to the electrical grid, redirect waste heat to the harbor area and district heating system, and demonstrate the overall potential of Wärtsilä’s fuel cell – which boasts efficiencies up to 53 percent, low noise, and zero emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulates – throughout the port. Aside from stationary power, Wärtsilä will feature its fuel cell auxiliary power unit (APU) on board ships docked at the harbor. At ports where speed restrictions are in place for approaching vessels, a fuel cell APU could provide clean power to bring the ship to harbor, thereby greatly reducing emissions.


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