A machine stacks shipping containers.
An electric stacking crane at Pier J at the Port of Long Beach. Courtesy of the Port of Long Beach

Nine cranes used to move and stack shipping containers at the SSA Marine terminal at the Port of Long Beach are no longer powered by fossil fuels following a grant-funded electrification retrofit.

As part of the port’s Zero-Emissions Terminal Equipment Transition project, the conversion of the cranes on Pier J was funded in large part by a $9.7 million California Energy Commission grant, port officials announced last week.

SSA did not respond to a request for comment, and the total cost of the conversion project was not immediately available.

In partnership with the CEC and Southern California Edison, the port has put 21 human-operated, zero- or near-zero-emissions vehicles in daily operation at three marine terminals, and trucking company Total Transportation Services will “test their performance in a real-world setting,” according to the announcement.

As part of the project, SSA recently completed the final retrofit of the “majority” of its rubber-tired gantry crane fleet. It is unclear how many cranes operate at the terminal.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have set a goal of operating a fully zero-emission cargo handling fleet by 2030 as part of the joint Clean Air Action Plan, which was first implemented in 2007 and updated in 2017.

“In the decades since we created the Green Port Policy, our ambitions have grown from cleaning the air for our community to showing the world it’s possible to do that everywhere,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement. The Green Port Policy was adopted in January 2005.

“These demonstrations are designed to commercialize heavy-duty zero emissions equipment and vehicles to combat pollution but also to fight climate change, the effects of which we are seeing in the news almost every day,” Cordero said.

Two other demonstrations included in the Zero-Emissions Terminal Equipment Transition project are underway or have concluded, Heather Tomley, managing director of planning and environmental affairs for the port, said in an email. International Transportation Service at Pier G and the Long Beach Container Terminal at Pier E demonstrated a combined eight BYD battery-electric yard tractors.

The tractor demonstration, which originally was meant to include 12 vehicles, has concluded, Tomley said. Four tractors could not be delivered on time to take part in the demonstration.

To meet the demands of the demonstrations, Tomley said terminals also must upgrade their electrical infrastructure.

“Each terminal has different existing electrical infrastructure, and the cost to add electrical infrastructure will vary by terminal,” Tomley said. “It will vary significantly if the terminal needs to upgrade the power supply to their facility.”

Total Transportation Services also is demonstrating four liquified natural gas plug-in hybrid-electric trucks for drayage service, according to Tomley. The grant application was submitted in 2017, a time when zero-emission trucks were not commercially available, Tomley explained, which is why the near-zero emission demonstration is taking place despite the zero-emission goal being only seven years away.

As part of the demonstrations, data is collected over the course of six months and the equipment must be operated for a year, Tomley said.

The transition project is expected to reduce greenhouse gasses and smog-causing nitrogen oxides by more than 1,323 tons and 27 tons, respectively, each year, according to a statement from the port. These are welcome reductions following a recent report that pandemic-induced backlogs at the port caused emissions to increase.

As terminal operators continue to move forward with zero-emission equipment, one major question that has dockworkers concerned is whether to also make a shift to more automated equipment. The issue has caused delays in labor negotiations over the last four months between the union representing dockworkers and the association representing terminal operators and shippers.

The port, for its part, said there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach on the path toward zero emissions.

“Each terminal will make decisions about what works best to meet the needs of their operations,” Tomley said. “All of the grant-funded demonstration projects managed by the Port of Long Beach have focused on development and demonstration of first-of-its-kind zero-emission human-operated equipment.”

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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.