Clean Air Month, celebrated in May, brings heightened awareness to an important issue for ports and port communities.
Ports traffic a high number of ships, vessels, barges, and boats on a daily basis and, because many are powered by dirty, high-carbon bunker fuel, air quality issues are a particular concern in and around port communities. As the momentum to reduce emissions and improve air quality continues to grow across the international port industry, many port authorities are seeking cleaner energy alternatives to use on-site.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), switching to cleaner fuel is one of the most effective strategies for emissions reduction. That means clean, low-emissions energy sources—like propane—can offer considerable environmental and economic advantages for various port applications.
1. Propane-powered equipment reduces emissions
Diesel engines are the current workhorse of the American economy, and although they can be reliable and efficient, older diesel engines can emit significant amounts of air pollution, including particulate matter, NOx, and carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. And while many port authorities think the solution to lower emissions is to electrify their equipment, they’re likely unaware that propane has a cleaner and more transparent emissions profile when lifecycle emissions are taken into consideration. This includes site-to-source emissions produced in the creation and transmission of electric forklift batteries.
Sometimes data can speak louder than words and the Propane Education & Research Council has valuable data to support the claim that this is the cleanest energy source for port operations. Most notably, using propane produces 43 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than using an equivalent amount of electricity generated from the U.S. grid, according to data from PERC. And thanks to propane’s energy versatility, crews can reduce emissions across a port with propane-powered forklifts, port and terminal tractors, light- and medium-duty vehicles, shuttles, power generation, and even small marine vessels.
For smaller material handling needs on-site, propane forklifts reduce emissions compared with their diesel and electric counterparts. Compared with electric, propane can reduce SOx emissions by 76 percent, and compared with diesel forklift engines, propane forklift engines can produce up to 97 percent fewer hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions—without any drop-off in payload or power.
Propane can bring emissions reductions to a port’s vehicle fleet, too. Terminal tractors powered by propane autogas produce 12 percent fewer lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-fueled terminal tractors, according to data from the Argonne National Laboratory. And propane autogas vehicles reduce NOx emissions by up to 36 percent compared to diesel vehicles, greenhouse gas emissions by up to 22 percent compared to gasoline vehicles, and up to 45 percent less particulate matter than electric vehicles throughout the full fuel cycle.
2. Propane is environmentally friendly
When ships come in and out of ports day in and day out, not only do they release harmful emissions into the atmosphere, but they can also have a negative impact on water resources, ecosystems, and marine life. Powering land- and sea-side port equipment with propane can introduce a more environmentally-friendly solution. It is an approved clean alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act. Additionally, the energy source is non-toxic and, if leaked, it vaporizes and dissipates into the air, eliminating contamination to air, land, and water resources. Spilled gasoline or diesel, on the other hand, can quickly contaminate these resources.
3. Propane is only getting cleaner
The energy source itself is seeing innovation and in the near future, more propane will be made from renewable sources. Renewable propane is a byproduct of the renewable diesel and jet fuel production process, which converts plant and vegetable oils, waste greases, and animal fat into energy. Because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, renewable propane is even cleaner than conventional propane—and far cleaner than other energy sources. And considering its chemical structure and physical properties are the same as traditional propane, renewable propane can be used for all the same applications.
To learn more about the environmental benefits and versatility of propane for port operations, visit Propane.com/Ports.
Matt McDonald is the director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at email@example.com.