POLA’s Zero-Emission Demonstration Project Sets Bar High for All Marine Terminals

Gene Seroka

In May, the Port of Los Angeles and Pasha Stevedoring & Terminals LP announced the launch of the Green Omni Terminal Demonstration Project—a full-scale, real-time demonstration of zero- and near-zero emission technologies at a working marine terminal. The project represents the ongoing greening of one of the busiest ports in the United States, implementing advanced clean technologies invested in and championed by the California Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District. VX News sat down with Pasha Vice President Jeffrey Burgin and Port of LA Executive Director Dr. Gene Seroka to discuss the project’s significance for goods movement throughout the state and the region, and how it could change the paradigm for sustainable freight.

VX News: Gene, share the vision and mission of the Port of LA’s Green Omni Terminal Demonstration project—which as been touted as a full-scale, real-time demonstration of zero and near-zero emission technologies at a working marine terminal.

Gene Seroka: The idea is a product of our culture here at the Port of Los Angeles. We’ve always looked at opportunities for technology advancements—whether it be in our cargo conveyance system or in how we operate on the docks every day.

That interest in advancement is drawn from our spirit of innovation. We always want to know: How can we create interest in blue and green technology that will take us to the next level?

Creating an environment for incubation—a location for manufacturers to test products they’re trying to get out to market—seemed like the best way to do that. That overall goal originated the Port’s conversations with Jeff and others at Pasha.

VX News: Jeff, in your role as Senior V.P. of Pasha Stevedoring and Terminals L.P, you shave described this project as a “Wright brothers moment.” How so?

Jeffrey Burgin: The reason for my comment is that we are embarking on a project that I don’t think we can see the end of. It’s going to be ever changing—like a cell phone that gets upgraded every six months. We’re going to make new discoveries and find ourselves rounding corners we didn’t predict.

It’s incumbent upon us, as business owners, to help resolve some of these issues. Who better to do go down this path than a business? We’ve been able to lasso so many different providers into this project. We learn about new technologies, and new ways to use the products coming out, pretty much every other week. As long as we keep an open mind, we will see some very unique things come out of this project. 

VX News: Gene, CARB chair Mary Nichols was quoted in the same press release as saying, “It’s exciting to see a project with so many emerging zero- and near-zero-emission solutions for handling freight.” What is CARB’s role in this project?

Gene Seroka: CARB stepped up with a $14.5-million grant under the Air Quality Improvement and Low Carbon Transportation programs, which we got as a Multi-Source Facility Demonstration Project. Through the leadership of George Pashas IV, Pasha also put out more than $11 million.

CARB has been with us since the beginning—not only on this project, but also on a wide variety of topics addressed in California Sustainable Freight Action Plan, which was recently distributed to the public. That plan looks for ways, in accordance with the governor’s executive order, for the Port to migrate to zero- and near-zero-emissions technology, find more efficient ways to move our cargo, and make the state of California even more competitive on the global trade platform. CARB has been an invaluable source of expertise and guidance throughout the process with Pasha.

VX News: Jeff, talk about your goals in moving forward in this financing. Who are your collaborative partners on this project in the private sector, academia, and elsewhere?

Jeffrey Burgin: We’re working with PermaCity, Tri-Mer, and a variety of other people. We’re still interviewing companies throughout the process in order to find out the best partners to host some of the products we’re going to be putting out there.

For instance, I recently read an article that excited me about a company called Taylor Manufacturing down in Jackson, Mississippi, who are in the testing stages of manufacturing battery-operated top handler. So we’re sending one of our green mechanics down there to work with them and discuss the technology and its practical use.You can develop a great technology, but determining its practical use in our industry requires a whole different view. We send our own people down to look at these developments and critique the models that manufacturers start to build. Our other critical partners have been Burns & McDonnell, LADWP, the South Coast AQMD, UCLA Luskin Center, UC Riverside Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology, Coalition for Clean Air, BYD, and Clean Air Engineering’s Maritime Division.

VX News: What paradigm-changing technologies are being incorporated into this demonstration project?

Jeffrey Burgin: The Port is retooling and reengineering the rooftops of one of our warehouses so we can put in solar panels. Our goal is to reuse that energy at the facility. We plan to use it to operate our three hammerhead cranes and to power the charging stations for our battery-operated equipment. It can also be housed, and used to run energy back through the offices that we have onsite. As I mentioned, we’re introducing different types of battery-operated machinery. We’re in the testing stages for forklift top handler, Utility Tractor Rigs (UTRs), and other machinery we use on the docks. We’ve been testing a battery-operated semi for about six months now, which we use to haul all our equipment to the different facilities throughout the port. I’ve had the opportunity to drive that vehicle, and it’s very impressive.

The UTRs have the capacity to pull about 88,000 pounds of steel around the yard and back. We use them primarily to haul containers, as well as to haul steel slab out to one of our big clients out in the desert, California Steel Industries (CSI). The battery-operated forklift technology will be 15-tonners, and we’ll be running testing on using those for shapes and sizes such as beams, coil, rebar, and the rest of our products.

The opportunity that I see here is a pruning ground, where we find the best use of new battery-operated technologies, incorporate them into real equipment, and work out the kinks on the equipment. Then, we’ll have the ability to run it on any terminal anywhere in the US or even the world.

VX News: Gene, what is the value-added of POLA’s Green Omni Terminal demonstration project including both microgrid and battery storage? Are other energy-saving and clean-air technologies being incorporated?

Gene Seroka: The combination of solar panels and the battery storage system is one-of-a-kind in the industry today, and it’s an important part of the project. The ability to collect and use that energy, even when the sun is down or on a cloudy day, and push it back out to the operations at the terminal is really going to raise the bar on this project.

Another concept that got CARB’s attention very quickly was the potential for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships as part of the at-berth emissions control system. We’re trying to work with our terminals to minimize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their operations. ShoreCat, Pasha’s proposed on-dock vessel emissions capture and treatment system, will place a bonnet over a ship’s exhaust stack while it is at berth to capture up to 95 percent of ship emissions, and including potentially up to 90 percent of greenhouse gases.

The demonstration of greenhouse gasemissions capture in this type of system on container ships, as well as other types of cargo vessels calling at the Pasha terminal, will be a very important step for the maritime industry.

VX News: Jeff, some in the business and environmental community have described the City of LA’s procurement process as a nightmare. How did Pasha manage to navigate it with such a bold array of technologies?

Jeffrey Burgin: We’ve got a great partner in the Port of Los Angeles. Gene’s leadership really guided us in a completely different direction, allowing a lot of these things to come to fruition. The collaboration between our two goods was helpful in Sacramento.You tell a story, and continue to tell that story, and eventually it comes back around and people start to see the value. It wasn’t easy; it took us about three years. Now, everybody’s on board. It’s an amazing thing to see.

The project benefits all the parties involved in it. And beyond that, every company in the United States or even in the world will be able to see new proven technologies come out of our demonstrations, and realize that they are attainable. 

Gene Seroka: That’s part of our overall strategy. I want to give the confidence to the manufacturing community, and their tiered suppliers, that we can create a market for this technology as it comes about and is proven under the construct of the demonstration project. 

Utilizing the strong brand names of Pasha and the Port of LA will quickly get a lot of folks in our network of contacts in the industry and the manufacturing communities interested in trying to make this technology commercially available. Replications of our demonstrations will in turn firm up the levels of commitment to the technology from equipment manufacturing groups. 

We’re seeing this in real time. I have confidence that this demonstration project is going to prove successful, and there will be opportunities for other terminals and other ports to follow POLA’s lead. 

"CARB has been with us since the beginning—not only on this project, but also on a wide variety of topics addressed in California Sustainable Freight Action Plan. That plan looks for ways for the Port to migrate to zero- and near-zero-emissions technology, find more efficient ways to move our cargo, and make the state of California even more competitive on the global trade platform.” - Dr. Gene Seroka