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An Electric Future: the Port of Long Beach 

An Electric Future: the Port of Long Beach 

Aerial view on Long Beach marina and shipping port at sunny day, United States

By Luke Carothers

Port infrastructure represents a vital step in the supply chains that affects not only every aspect of the AEC industry but also society as a whole.  In the United States, this important position as a vital step in getting the materials and products to consumers is often at odds with visions of a greener future.  Although ports are not the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, their contribution is significant, and, left unchecked, can significantly impact local and regional air quality.  This knowledge has been part of the conversation for some time, and several ports are pushing the limits of what the future will hold, seeking to lower their emissions while maintaining their critical function.

The Port of Long Beach has had a long standing commitment to address air quality and reduce emissions from port-related activities.  Seeking to lessen the impact on local communities and improve air quality regionally, the Port maintains a Clean Air Action Plan, which was most recently updated in 2017.  The Port’s Clean Air Action Plan is a planning strategy document, which is developed jointly with their neighbors the Port of Los Angeles.  This update placed a strong emphasis and focus on climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  According to Heather Tomley, Managing Director of Planning and Environmental Affairs at the Port of Long Beach, this update led them to aggressively pursue zero emissions projects.  As the second largest seaport in the United States, this aggressive pursuit for zero emissions projects is shaping the way the industry thinks about the future of port infrastructure.  

This push for lower emissions started with electric equipment and infrastructure for terminal office stations and on-road trucks.  Tomley says that this process included searching and applying for grants and funding opportunities to demonstrate the viability of emerging pieces of equipment.  Through this, and working closely with terminal operators, the Port has demonstrated the zero emissions future of several different pieces of heavy equipment.  The Port has been leading the way in terms of proving the capacities of zero emission systems and heavy equipment, having shown the working capacity of equipment that vastly reduces the level of emissions from port operations.

As part of the federal government’s recent announcement to distribute $703 million to improve port infrastructure and strengthen national supply chains, the Port of Long Beach is receiving a grant that will allow them to further define sustainable port operations for the future.  This $30.1 million grant enables the Port to deploy the nation’s largest fleet of manually-operated zero emissions cargo handling equipment at a single marine terminal.  Located at the Long Beach Container Terminal, this grant allows the Port to replace the traditional diesel yard tractors with a fleet of approximately 60 electric, human operated yard tractors.  Additional features–such as charging stations with “energy-enhancing” software– training for operators and maintenance personnel, and the installation of software equipment to streamline cargo-handling operations are major components of this paradigm-shifting project.

Previously, diesel yard tractors significantly contributed to the Port’s emissions.  According to Tomley, these machines are essential to port functions, moving containers to the dock rail.  Tomley points out that this is not particularly easy work either, with these machines being responsible for lifting heavy containers and placing them on a yard rail train.  Electrifying these yard tractors significantly reduces port emissions and does so in a way that maintains vital functions.  The electrification of the Long Beach Container Terminal is also significant in that it links it with another fully electrified terminal: the Middle Harbor Terminal.  The Port’s newest facility, the Middle Harbor Terminal, according to Tomley, is a “huge operation of electrified automated equipment.”  The connection of these two terminals will represent a significant step towards sustainability as a larger portion of port activities is electrified and made more sustainable.       

With more than 3.3 million cargo container units moving through the facility, this project reshapes the conversation about how supply chains can be strengthened.  The work being done at the Port of Long Beach, from 2017 onwards, shows that investing in port infrastructure not only strengthens supply chains, but does so in a sustainable way.  While ports have historically been a large source of greenhouse gas emissions, the Port of Long Beach is changing the narrative, showing that ports will remain a viable piece of infrastructure in a greener, more sustainable future.  Through their commitment to finding solutions, the Port of Long Beach has established itself as an example for others in the AEC industry to follow.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.