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Europe’s GREEN EFFORTS project co-operating with BA container terminals

Containers piled up at the Buenos Aires City port.
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

The EC-funded programme is aimed at both cutting carbon emissions to save the environment and lives, and reducing growing energy costs

The research project GREEN EFFORTS, co-funded by the European Commission, lines up to make ports a better place to work and to live, Professor Jens Froese, of the School of Engineering and Science of the Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany, says.

“The co-operation between this European project and the container terminals of Buenos Aires is an excellent example of what is much more required: an intensified exchange of experiences and ideas to allow for sufficiently big improvement steps to keep pace with the increasing challenges from both the environment and the development of energy costs,” Froese, Kieserling-Stiftung Distinguished Professor of Maritime Logistics, added in an interview with the Herald. “Of course, there is a lot more to do but the project has not only paved the way for further joint efforts or better green efforts, it also delivers a range of applicable solutions. Buenos Aires is one of the many cities in the world feeding their consumers and serving the export industry by container terminals embedded in or close to the city’s residential areas. The port was a competitive advantage of cities in the past and the main reason to establish a settlement at the site. A port still is of advantage to a city but since both, the ports and the cities, have grown and continue to grow, increasing problems have to be faced.”

Which problems would you single out?

Port terminals, especially container terminals, are big energy consumers and this will increase with the continuously growing cargo volumes. Currently, ship-to-shore cranes and refrigerated containers (reefers) are the biggest consumers of electric energy whereas other terminal equipment such as tractors and rubber-tired gantry cranes to stack the containers at the yard are usually diesel-fuelled. There is, however, a global tendency to electrify all equipment.

Consumption of energy results in emissions, from diesel fuel directly on the terminal site, from electricity provided by a public grid or somewhere else where the power plant, generating the electricity, is situated. Gaseous emissions, the so-called greenhouse gases (GHG) have an impact on our climate and cause global warming. The main cause is carbon dioxide and for simplification other greenhouse gases are expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents and the total GHG-emissions compose the “carbon footprint.” Hence, the carbon footprint of an industry, a big plant or a small workshop indicates the impact on our climate.

Is anybody setting carbon footprint standards for logistics players?

International standards already exist or are currently under development to measure and calculate the carbon footprint and to allow reporting according to, for example, the international Greenhouse Gas Protocol or following the standard ISO 14064. This is feasible as long as it is restricted to the total energy consumption. However, it is rather difficult or sometimes even impossible to accurately allocate the carbon footprint to an industrial product, such as a bottle of imported wine or, in the case of container terminals, to a single container. The basis for this calculation within the transport industry is the standard CEN EN 16258, which has been released in 2013 but still needs some improvement to become practically applicable for all logistics players. The industrial carbon footprint in some countries is an issue of mandatory reporting, in others currently just a matter of social responsibility, but for all it is an indication of the amount of energy consumption and hence will be mirrored by the energy bill to be paid. It is therefore not difficult to convince the big industrial energy consumers as container terminals to search of energy savings. The research project GREEN EFFORTS, co-funded by the European Commission, supports the industry in this search.

And where stand Buenos Aires terminal among this?

All Buenos Aires-based container terminals are very supportive and contributed to better understanding energy consumption and looking for reduction opportunities. On a generic level, energy savings are easy to achieve, the approach is always the same from big industrial plants to private flats by either reducing consumption or increasing energy efficiency. Ideally both lines of improvement should be followed.

Savings usually just mean to think when, where and for what purpose energy is being uºsed and then simply adapt consumption to just what is really necessary. Idle operations in any sector of daily life, professional and personal, is one of the biggest energy-wasters.

How can energy efficiency be improved?

In many ways: By raising awareness through information; through training to improve skills and through motivation to raise the willingness to apply knowledge and skills. Also, energy efficiency can be maximized by improving operations, the modification of equipment or the use of more efficient equipment, and the implementation of more innovative solutions. Optimal results will always require a combination of all these measures and this requires detailed knowledge of techniques and technologies, operations and potential opportunities.

Hasn’t energy consumption always been a major issue?

Of course terminal managers know their business but in the past, energy consumption was not the biggest issue. Hence, digging deeper for better solutions is a relatively new domain and bridging knowledge gaps the first step to success.

How does this apply to container terminals?

Container terminal operations in general involve moving and storing boxes from ship to stack, from stack to another ship/barge or to hinterland transport by truck or railway. These simple processes can be organized in various ways. To improve energy efficiency, idle movements must be minimized by organizing stacks to minimize travel distance from/to ships and from/to trucks/railway. Also, whenever stowage aboard of a container vessel allows it, loading parallel to discharging (“dual cycle operation”) so that terminal tractors never go empty.

What would be the leading technical solutions?

Adapting power units to what is really needed; often equipment is overpowered and hence consumes continuously more energy than necessary. Avoiding idle operations (for example diesel start-stop). Replacing high-pressure sodium floodlights by LED-panels, saving about 50 percent of the energy, which can be additionally enhanced once an intelligent yard-lighting system is installed to provide light only where it is needed. Reducing stand-by consumption (of, for example, ship-to-shore cranes which usually are on standby about 50 percent of the total time). Modifying diesel and diesel-hydraulic equipment to diesel-electric (hybrid). Installing recuperation units.

How does the recuperation process work?

Braking vehicles and lowering loads by cranes wastes energy which originally had been induced by gaining speed or hoisting the load. Instead of wasting this energy by producing heat — which is emitted to the atmosphere — it can be partly used by producing electric energy (an electric brake works as a generator); saving recovered energy in an electrical short-time storage, a capacitor; and feeding recovered energy back to the grid, as ship-to-shore cranes usually do. Also, producing kinetic energy by a flywheel coupled to the drive or hoist train returning it to support the next work cycle.

How would this all apply for instance, to Argentina beef and fruit exports?

Terminals with seasonal fruit export, as is the case for the Buenos Aires terminals, have to deal with very energy-hungry consumers, the refrigerated containers called “reefers.” Distinct from deep-frozen commodities as, for example meat, where the reefers work similar to a freezer at home by occasionally switching the compressor on and off, fruits require continuous exchange of the air in the container to discharge ethylene emitted by the fruits. Ethylene is also called ripening gas because it causes an escalating maturation process and will deteriorate the fruit long before reaching its destination. The air discharged from the container needs to be replaced by new ambient air which again must be cooled down or, when the ambient temperature is very low, sometimes also heated to maintain the required transport temperature. This explains the apparent contradiction that deep frozen cargo requires less energy for maintaining transport temperature than fruit cargo at well above zero degree temperatures.

There is an additional effect which further raises the energy consumption of chilled containers with fruits. Often these containers are being loaded directly at the field where the fruit is harvested and where no electric plug is available to cool the box and the fruit. The container is then carried by truck to the terminal loaded with fruits at the ambient temperature, which can be well above 30 degrees C and only then plugged in at the terminal to cool it down to a temperature of, say, around 10 degrees C. These containers are called “hot boxes” and can considerably contribute to high consumption of electric energy. Terminals with a high seasonal share of chilled containers therefore have an extraordinarily high consumption of electric energy during these periods.

The discrepancy in energy consumption of reefers can be large, depending on the product line and quality of maintenance, however, terminals have no influence as the boxes belong to the shipping lines. The only opportunity is to measure and record the actual consumption of each box and charge the clients accordingly to motivate them to use up-to-date equipment. Measurement devices to do so are currently not in place but GREEN EFFORTS provides a technical solution based on so-called reefer-monitoring systems, often installed at terminals to provide an alarm once a reefer is not working properly. The monetary value of reefer cargoes can be very high and hence damage of cargo quality must be avoided.

Can you provide some examples?

In 2013 a Japanese terminal conducted trials to reduce the electric consumption of reefers by shading these during sunny and hot days by a retractable roof. This method resulted in an overall reduction of energy consumption by about four percent, of course, depending on the intensity and duration of sunshine. GREEN EFFORTS further developed this solution but it will result in additional investment and operational hindrances and therefore must be calculated for each individual case.

How is Europe tackling this?

In Europe the buzzword of the energy sector is regenerative energy, resulting in a very low or even zero carbon footprint. For terminals, energy harvested from solar panels and from wind turbines provides a good opportunity. However, both wind and sun are often not always offering the energy at the precise moment it is required, thus the consumption profile does not match the supply profile. This can be best solved by battery-driven tractors to move the containers. These tractors can be charged during availability of regenerative energy and then serve as energy storage without investing in expensive batteries. Reefers with deep frozen content can be cooled to lower temperatures once regenerative energy is available and hence will not need to be cooled in phases of lack of regenerative power. De-frosting, a process swallowing considerable energy, also could be organized in the same way. Again, this should become new functions of reefer-monitoring systems allowing for central software-supported control. Terminals, mainly due to the cranes, are not static consumers but have high energy consumption peaks, which might cause problems to the public grid provider. In the worst case, once peak consumptions from several big consumers accumulate, this might cause the total loss of power, a black-out.

GREEN EFFORTS therefore advocates an intelligent grid management, whereby terminals and the grid provider exchange information, both forecast and in real-time, to optimize the balance between supply and consumption. This sounds easy but it is actually a challenging task requiring sophisticated technology. However, at the end of the day, it pays off for both, the energy provider and the terminals. Terminals increasingly go electric and apply energy-saving measures, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and a lower energy bill. Complaints from city administrations and residents are now targeting the terminals less, rather concentrating on the truck traffic to supply and pick up the containers. Traffic jams are a common image of port cities hosting big container terminals and stop-and-go traffic generates the highest possible emission rate, including particulate matter (PM), i.e., fine dust, a significant contributor to mortality in cities.

During the course of the project, GREEN EFFORTS therefore also put the PM-issue on the “to do” list and searched for solutions to manage the city through traffic to and from ports and terminals. The answer is a combination of pre-gates and time-slot management, tailor-made for each port-city relation, which always is different.

As an intermediate measure, diesel can also be replaced by liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). Of course this is also a fossil hydrocarbon but during combustion at least does not emit PM.

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