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Opinion: New Automated Terminals Can Help Meet CAAP Zero Emissions And Boost LA/LB Market Share

Nov 17, 2017

The governing boards of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach unanimously approved the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), on November 2nd. The plan contains ambitious goals for lowering truck and cargo-handling equipment to near zero and ultimately reach zero emissions. In a background paper, the two ports states: “the 2017 CAAP (Clean Air Action Plan) Update includes goals for 100% zero-emissions for trucks by 2035 and cargo-handling equipment by 2030.”

A 2016 report by the engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol analyzed the costs of replacing thousands of diesel-powered yard tractors, rubber tire gantry cranes and other equipment at existing container terminals with electric powered automated guided vehicles and stacking cranes. The firm concluded that the replacement cost of installing automated and near zero emission equipment at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland would range between from $23 billion to $35 billion, with the bulk of the cost borne by the two bigger Southern California ports.

However, for approximately $6 billion, it might be possible for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to replace most of their terminal capacity based on the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT) model. LBCT is an automated terminal powered by electricity and generating nearly zero emissions.

LBCT is projected to cost $2 billion, including infrastructure and equipment and have a capacity to process 3.1 million TEUs per year when fully operational, according to Port of Long Beach officials. LBCT has the most advanced container handling capability in the United States and can process 20,000 TEU ships and larger. Building three additional such terminals might cost $6 billion (3 x $2 billion) cumulatively handling 9.3 million TEUs per year (3 x 3.1 million TEUs). Such an undertaking might take 10 years to complete. This would be fast enough to meet the CAAP deadlines. The result would allow the two ports to reclaim market share by attracting 20,000 TEU box ships to Southern California and recover the loss of business caused by the Panama Canal widening. The canal is restricted to 14,000 TEU container ships. A Port of Long Beach official said that LBCT’s automated technology will lower container handling cost by as much as 40% compared to existing non-automated terminals. This is due to less manning and improved productivity. An LBCT executive said that the new automated terminals efficiently load and unload mega-container ships thanks to:

  • Dual hoist ship to shore gantry cranes.
  • Automated guided vehicles to transport containers to and from the cranes.
  • Automated stacking conveyors that move containers to and from the pier for scheduled truck pick-ups and deliveries.
  • Advanced terminal software systems integration as provided by companies such as Navis.

Three new such terminals at Los Angeles and Long Beach, plus LBCT, might automate the processing of 12.4 million twenty-foot unit containers per year. In 2016, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach processed 15.6 million TEUs or 7,800,000 forty-foot containers. The new investments could be partially financed with a $50 per forty-foot container fee that would generate $3.9 billion over ten years (7.8 m x $50 X 10 years) close to the approximately $6 billion that might finance construction of the three new terminals. The remainder $2.1 billion can be generated by investments from terminal owners, ocean carriers and public financing.

John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association (PMSA), representing owners and operators of marine terminals and U.S. and foreign flag vessels said: “The LBCT construction was almost a greenfield type project – whereas full automation of existing terminals would result in major disruption of that terminal(s) existing operations. Regarding a container fee, left unsaid is who would pay the fee and how it would be collected. Historically, container fee proposals have generated a lot of opposition from the trade community. That said, the piece will probably spark some controversy – which is what opinion pieces should do.”

The CAAP also requires 100% zero emission trucks by 2035 eliminating diesel powered trucks. These trucks transport the two Ports’ imports and exports to and from California warehouses. The trucking industry is concerned about the high cost of switching over to zero-emission trucks. These emissions can be partially offset by new U.S.-built coastal ships. A 2017 study, sponsored by the Southern California Association of Governments, found that 4.8% of imports passing through the LA/LB ports in 2015 were transloaded and trucked up to Northern California, nearly 400 miles away. Based on this Northern California truck market, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will have generated 373,666 forty-foot containerized truck trips arriving and returning to the ports in 2015. Additional imports are trucked from the two ports to Oregon and Washington, but hard data is lacking as to the volume.

Orange EV electric terminal truck
Orange EV electric terminal truck

Coastal/short sea container ships sailing between the LA/LB ports and a Northern California port could shift as many as 1,000 forty-foot truck trips per day off Southern California freeways. This would help meet CAAP lower emission goals, because a small ship carrying 375-400 forty-foot containers per voyage avoids travelling on freeways, lowers its emission footprint by carrying hundreds of containers and can deliver containers faster and cheaper than by truck. New ships are also powered by lower emission LNG and, in some cases, batteries. A Dutch container terminal designer, who has visited LBCT, says that the Port of Rotterdam’s new automated container terminals, similar to LBCT, include smaller gantry cranes to load and unload coastal and inland vessels. If new automated Southern California terminals deployed two wide-boom cranes for coastal ships, each terminal might process an additional 300,000 to 400,000 forty-foot container moves per year supporting North/South port connections.

Today, 15% of children in Long Beach suffer from asthma compared to 9% of children in the United States, according to the CAAP draft report. South Coast Air Quality Management District officials say that respiratory problems afflicting people living near congested truck corridors in Southern California are partly caused by diesel-powered trucks generating nitric oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) resulting in asthma and other illnesses.

A ship powered by LNG will “nearly eliminate” PM emissions and “substantially reduce” NOx emissions compared to trucks, a representative of Wartsila, the European marine engine maker said. The use of batteries to partially power ships is on the increase and will reduce emissions further.

Author Photo
Stas Margaronis
American Journal of Transportation
WEST COAST CORRESPONDENT

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