After investing $2.5 billion in clean technology and equipment over the last 12 years, Long Beach Container Terminal officials say another $200 million will get the cargo handling facility across the finish line to “net zero” — which means terminal operations will produce no environmentally harmful emissions — by 2030.
The earlier three-phase improvement project at the 304-acre terminal has already dramatically increased how many 20-foot equivalent containers (a standard measure) can be loaded and unloaded daily, while also significantly shrinking emissions since the first phase of upgrades opened in 2016, Long Beach Container Terminal ESG and Sustainability Director Bonnie Nixon said Thursday in explaining the net zero plan.
New automated, electric-powered cranes, self-driving chassis that move cargo containers and on-shore power that ships connect to so they don’t have to burn dirty fuel while loading or unloading have helped get the terminal 90% of the way to the net zero goal, Long Beach Container Terminal CEO Anthony Otto said.
The largest on-dock rail facility in the nation is able to load about 35% of the cargo coming into the terminal directly onto trains, reducing the number of trucks on the road, and terminal officials aim to get to 40%. And for the trucks that are still needed, the automated cranes get them in and out faster, with an average of just 4 minutes of idling time, according to terminal officials.
“This facility is the most efficient, technologically advanced container terminal in the world. It is also the cleanest container terminal on the planet,” Otto said.
Reaching net zero, he said, will be “good for our community, that’s good for this region, it’s good for the maritime industry as a whole.”
The improvements have made terminal operations into a technological marvel, with cranes lifting, shifting and lowering containers, chassis weaving in and out to receive containers or driving themselves into a building where their spent batteries are traded for charged ones, and everything happening simultaneously like a whirring, beeping, clanging symphony.
The additional $200 million to be spent in pursuit of the 2030 goal will cover replacing about 270 gas-powered vehicles and other equipment, adding to the terminal’s three existing solar panel arrays, and finding other ways to make the energy that powers the facility cleaner.
Ships using the terminal must plug into shore power or potentially face state fines, with enforcement expected to begin April 1. And while the terminal can’t dictate when and how shipping and trucking companies clean up their emissions, “by 2030, everything we control here will be renewable, will be electrified, will not produce emissions,” Nixon said.
While automation has eliminated many of the hands-on, outdoor jobs once done by people, terminal officials said they’ve spent more than $9 million on training workers for higher tech, higher paying jobs as mechanics for the new systems or monitoring operations and working cranes and other equipment remotely. One building at the terminal houses a nerve center where workers sit in front of joysticks that control cranes and screens that show them what’s happening on the ground.
Overall, the reduction in pollution could help improve the terrible air quality in nearby communities like Long Beach’s Westside, sometimes called “asthma alley” for the health impacts its residents face. And as major retailers strive to meet federal environmental goals, some are expected to partner with the Long Beach Container Terminal to find ways to reduce their emissions.