Fostering Growth while Reducing Port Emissions: Important Steps on a Clean Air Journey

tugs-353422_640 pixabayGrowth at the Port of Houston Authority (PHA) is staggering – an estimated 8,500 ships will visit the Houston Ship Channel this year and cargo traffic at the port has increased by over 20 percent compared to last year. That’s after a record-breaking year in 2014. Many worry about how much pollution the additional traffic may bring to the area. After all, diesel emissions from transportation activity at the port are already a contributor to localized air pollution.

But at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we know that business growth and improved quality of life issues can go hand in hand. This summer, Richardson Companies (Richardson) – a stevedoring, warehousing, trucking, and barge company that is one of the largest tenants at the Port of Houston – participated in EDF’s Climate Corps Fellowship Program. This program matches specially trained graduate students with leading organizations to strategize scalable solutions for energy management. On average, over $1 million in energy savings are identified for each host organization. With the help of their graduate fellow, Keegan Hartman, Richardson learned how new transport service, emerging technology, and operational changes would enable them to accommodate increased demand for transport services as well as reduce emissions.

Through the strategies discussed below, Hartman calculated that Richardson could reduce supply chain carbon dioxide emissions by over 1,000 metric tons annually and also save approximately $1 million internally on annual fuel use – producing both environmental benefits for the community and economic rewards for the company.

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New transport service to get trucks off the road: Most import goods that flow through the port are loaded onto diesel trucks and then transported throughout Greater Houston and beyond. This contributes to traffic congestion on the area’s already overloaded roadways. But Richardson helps alleviate that: through a barge service connecting their new barge terminal – their “Green Transport Barge Terminal” near Baytown, TX – and PHA docks, they shift some of that traffic onto the waterway. That’s important because transport over water is more efficient than transport over the road. Hartman found that the barge system could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent compared to the traditional truck routing. That’s the first step.

Emerging technology to make trucks cleaner: The goods transported via the barge terminal are much closer to major customers in the Baytown area, but they still need to get to their final destination. A greener option is in the works here, too – EDF, in partnership with a diverse coalition that includes Richardson, is helping to demonstrate a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid-electric truck that will produce zero emissions at the tailpipe. These ultra-clean trucks will be on display next summer and will help close the loop on a greener transportation supply chain for goods that pass through Houston.

The 32 percent reductions from the first step grow to 53 percent if hydrogen fuel cell trucks are used in addition to the barge system. Other pollutants such as particulate matter would also drop in both scenarios. These reductions are important in helping mitigate the environmental impact of goods movement and preserving the quality of life for residents living near the Houston Ship Channel. But even more can be done.

Operational changes to reduce avoidable emissions: The EDF Climate Corps fellow didn’t only look at emerging technology and new service options. When analyzing truck information, Hartman realized that idling may be contributing to elevated levels of emissions. Idling occurs for many reasons, such as traffic congestion, and EDF is working with partners on strategies to reduce heavy-duty truck idling near the port. Additional study will help determine the scope of the issue and offer ideas on how to minimize idling, reduce fuel usage, and prevent additional emissions.

SmartWay Program to accelerate improvements: Importantly, Richardson formally joined EPA’s SmartWay Program, a voluntary public-private initiative that reduces emissions from freight transportation. Because of the help of their EDF Climate Corps fellow, Richardson is participating as a trucking partner and working toward participating as a barge partner. This program has helped partners save over $20 billion in fuel costs and reduced over 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since its inception. Richardson’s participation helps them reduce their fuel use and Houston breathe a little easier.

The EDF Climate Corps project with Richardson Companies demonstrates how an industry leader can innovate and identify promising opportunities to grow their business while reducing emissions. The freight transportation supply chain is a significant part of the Houston economy – and can also contribute to a more positive quality of life by identifying and implementing emissions reduction strategies. We congratulate Richardson Companies and the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship Program on a successful project and look forward to even more logistics companies taking steps on their clean air journey.

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