Reports illuminate path to decarbonize maritime sector in California

Two reports co-released by Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California Berkeley and Energy & Environmental Research Associates delve into policy changes and technology to decarbonize ocean going vessels, Pacific Environment highlights.

This set of reports seeks to inform stakeholders and policymakers on potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and other air pollutants from the maritime sector. These reports describe:

  • decarbonization technologies for ships, including low and zero carbon fuels, engine and operational efficiencies; and,
  • the policy landscape – what’s happening nationally and internationally, along with recommended policy initiatives for state and federal agencies in the United States.

    As explained, California has historically led the world in air pollution and greenhouse gas control measures, and has modeled policy initiatives for other states, and national and international governments. In 1988, California Air Resources Board (CARB) set limits on sulfur and other contents of diesel fuel to reduce criteria pollutants from motor vehicles. By 2008, CARB adopted a regulation to mandate the use of low sulfur marine distillate fuels, applicable to all vessels within 24 nautical miles of the California coast.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach stand as the most active seaports in the Western Hemisphere and the leading container ports in the United States, known collectively as the San Pedro Bay ports. These ports, along with others in California, manage approximately 40% of the country’s containerized imports and 30% of its exports. The concentrated emissions from ships, vehicles, and equipment have significantly impacted air quality in the region. CARB estimates suggest that these activities at the San Pedro Bay ports contribute to an annual average of 67 premature deaths and over 2,000 cases of respiratory harm in the surrounding area.

"The federal and state governments, including California, need to accelerate efforts to transition ships and ports toward a zero-emission future. We hope that California will strengthen its policies to reduce emissions from ships" said David Wooley, Director of the Environmental Center, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley.

"California has a unique opportunity to accelerate control of greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions from ships. This report highlights rapid development in the low and zero-GHG maritime fuels industry and identifies pathways to safe and efficient zero- and low-emission ships on the waters" said Edward Carr, Vice President of Operations, Energy & Environmental Research Associates.

California can create financial incentives for production and use of zero or near-zero carbon maritime fuels through Low Carbon Fuel Standards. There is currently no zero carbon fuels suitable for large ships produced on the West Coast of the US. This fuel supply infrastructure is critical to the success of global voluntary and mandatory commitments to zero carbon ship operations.

The EERA report provides a technology review of low and zero-greenhouse gas marine fuels and supplemental power systems. The report describes decarbonization potential, costs, technology parameters, safety, and infrastructure. The report includes a novel analysis of growth in green fueled fleets and shows the significant potential for sustainable marine fuels.

Among the report’s findings, the number of methanol-fueled and methanol-ready vessels is set to increase by 6.8 times, reaching around 285 vessels within the next five years. Ammonia-ready vessels are set to increase by 4.5 times, totaling around 200 vessels over the same time period. Other low-GHG vessel technologies like hydrogen fuel cells, battery power and assist, and solar and wind propulsion are also growing rapidly, indicating a shift towards early uptake of these technologies.

The report outlines a promising three-stage transition towards net zero emissions in the maritime section, highlighting the role methanol and ammonia may play as hydrogen carriers. While there are sizable gaps between maritime energy demand and projected production, the volumes of low- and zero-GHG fuels are anticipated to increase rapidly, with vessels ready and being built today that can use these fuels.





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