For much of its history, Jacksonville’s port has run on diesel and oil, the kind of heavy fuels that match the sheer weight of steel-hulled ships and the cargo they carry.
The future is shaping up to follow a different route for what makes the port run. It’s already moving increasingly toward electrification of the big cranes that unload cargo from ships and the smaller cranes that shuttle containers around terminal yards. Hydrogen could someday become the fuel of choice for ships that only recently left behind diesel for liquified natural gas.
A federal grant awarded to JaxPort in partnership with two of its tenants, Crowley Maritime and SSA Jacksonville, will put hard cash behind that goal by helping to pay for $47 million of investments geared toward lowering emissions of port-related equipment.
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For Jacksonville-based Crowley Maritime, it’s just one step in the company’s strategy to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, a goal the company tied to the target set by climate scientists of holding global warming to a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
President and CEO Tom Crowley, whose grandfather founded the privately-held company in 1892, has said Crowley is “on a mission to become the most sustainable and innovative maritime logistics company in the Americas” in order to “meet the climate crisis head on.”
“It’s really something that’s talked about in every senior leadership meeting,” said Meaghan Atkinson, vice president of sustainability at Crowley.
Crowley’s goal would cut greenhouse gas emissions each year through 2050 at a rate equal to removing 900,000 cars annually from the road, according to the company. Crowley, whose headquarters is in the Regency Square mall area of Arlington, operates in 36 nations and territories while employing about 7,000 people, so its annual progress reports will show what’s possible for port-related businesses to accomplish.
“It’s providing ways to partner across the industry that we have not attempted before − ways to partner with customers on new technologies and new skills,” Atkinson said. “It really just provides a lot of opportunities as we move forward.”
Crowley, which ships cargo from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, has been part of the city’s port scene for decades and operates out of the Talleyrand terminal. SSA is a newer presence at the Blount Island terminal where it handles ships that deliver cargo to and from Asia.
The companies teamed up with the port authority’s JaxPort Express initiative to win a $23.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in October. Nationwide, the department awarded about $703 million to 41 port projects by tapping into money from the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law by President Joe Biden.
Electrifying the ‘port of the future’
Roughly $150 million of the awards were for electrification projects at ports including Jacksonville. JaxPort CEO Eric Green called it a “significant milestone” in building a “port of the future.”
The federal grant will go toward a total of $47 million of projects at the Talleyrand and Blount Island terminals for electrified refrigerated container stacks, hybrid-electric rubber-tired gantry cranes, battery-powered electric forklifts and yard tractors, installation of fast-charging stations, and developing a plan for moving the port and local maritime industry toward zero-emission technologies.
The technology coming from the federal grant already is widely used on the West Coast and is moving now to East Coast ports, said Nick Primrose, chief of regulatory compliance for JaxPort.
“As best we can tell, this is first of its kind in Florida for such a large public-private partnership investment in low and zero-emission cargo handling equipment,” he said.
He said beyond the environmental benefits, increased electrification also has financial advantages because of the high cost of diesel fuel. The new equipment coming to JaxPort will cut diesel fuel usage by 12.3 million gallons over 20 years, Primrose said.
Aside from the new equipment such as rubber-tired gantry cranes that move around the terminal to move containers, JaxPort already was moving to modernize the Blount Island terminal during reconstruction of its berths so the much bigger dockside cranes that move containers on and off ships can plug in to electric power.
Blount Island has three fully electric dockside cranes now and will add three more in March with capacity for up to 10 of them.
While JaxPort seeks to add more technology, Crowley is investing in actually developing the technology that ports and shippers can use in the future.
Crowley is building a fully-electric tugboat called the e-Wolf, a tip of the cap to the company’s first tugboat that was called the Sea Wolf. When the e-Wolf starts operating in the port of San Diego, Crowley says it will be the first all-electric tugboat in the United States for the ship assistance industry.
In September, Crowley joined Chevron New Energies to invest in Zero Emission Industries, a company working to develop hydrogen fuel cells to propel ships through the water. Crowley also invested in Carbon Ridge for its work on technology that would capture carbon during boat voyages.
“It’s not go it alone,” Atkinson said of Crowley’s strategy. “It’s find all the partnerships possible and leverage all the partnerships that we possibly can just to drive forward everything we want to do, and making those partnerships means we can make the change that much faster than we ever could on our own.”