How ports are reinventing themselves for the green transition
When it comes to launching the energy transition, maritime policy is one of the main battlegrounds. But many ports, aware of their ecological and economic vulnerability, have embarked on sustainable development strategies.
According to the latest research, sea level will rise significantly (from 1.1 to 2 meters on average) by 2100, putting around 14% of the world’s major seaports at risk of coastal flooding and erosion. Ports in France, 66 of which are intended for maritime trade, are also threatened, and will have to adapt their infrastructures.
Maritime transport accounts for about 80 percent of world merchandise trade by volume. Maritime transport is responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions, which have increased by 32% over the past 20 years. Left unchecked, maritime transport emissions could reach 17% of global emissions by 2050.
Enter the “ports of the future”. Ports govern globalized economic activity and are veritable “energy hubs”, bringing together all kinds of transport (sea, land, river and aeronautics). From now on, they aim to reduce real estate, to be more respectful of the environment and better integrated into cities, in particular through the concept of “urban ports”.
At least $ 1 trillion will need to be invested between 2030 and 2050 to reduce the carbon footprint of maritime transport by 50% by 2050. Last year, petroleum-derived fuels accounted for 95% of energy consumption in the transports. At the same time, maritime traffic is expected to increase by 35-40% over the same period.
This dependence on hydrocarbons also represents an economic vulnerability for the maritime transport sector due to new environmental standards.
In France, liquid bulk transport has been declining since 2009 (3% decrease on average since 2016), despite a slight increase in 2017 (2.1%). Fuel transport (50% of transport by weight in major seaports) has also decreased by 25% since 2008.
The golden age of oil will not last long, given its environmental impact and its scarcity. With the decrease in the consumption of hydrocarbons and coal, we should also see a steady decrease in the transport of fuel.
The French government’s National Low Carbon Strategy (“National Low Carbon Strategy” or SNBC) aims to reduce emissions from the industrial sector by 35% by 2030 and 81% by 2050. This means almost complete decarbonisation of transport maritime. , creating a real technological challenge for the sector.
To achieve these objectives, the ports are working to become carbon neutral by rethinking their logistics operations (flow management) and their means of production (value creation), in an industrial reconversion process. They are banking on new environmental technologies to generate a double dividend, both environmental and economic.
Three approaches could be used to achieve these goals: energy efficiency, renewable energy production and industrial ecology.
Building the ships of tomorrow
A 2021 study by the Getting to Zero coalition found that carbon-free fuels must represent at least five percent of the fuel mix by 2030 for international shipping to comply with the Paris Agreement. Around 100,000 commercial vessels will be affected by this energy transition, according to GTT, a company specializing in the transport and storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
With this in mind, an ambitious environmental certification program, Green Marine Europe, launched in 2020 to create the European maritime industry of tomorrow.
New fuels with a lower carbon footprint, such as liquefied natural gas, ammonia and ethanol, and the accelerated adoption of alternative propulsion systems will be necessary for the sector to become greener.
In 2020, the port of Bordeaux acquired an LNG dredger, which consumes less energy and is more respectful of the environment thanks to its water injection dredging mechanism. (Delphine Trentacosta), Author provided
Hydrogen fuel (initially “gray”, increasingly “green”) represents another viable medium-term alternative for fleets subject to high turnover. While the project is still in its early stages (involving small vessels of 60 to 80 seats), more ambitious initiatives have been launched, such as the Hydrotug boat under construction for the port of Antwerp.
The advent of steam engines ended the use of large wind mowers in the late 1800s. But technologies that harness the wind could make a major comeback, with ships using sails and kites. to reduce fuel consumption.
Offshore wind turbines, a promising solution
The development of electrical installations and technologies is also essential to the energy transition, whether through electrified docks, the transformation of port dikes into energy producers, or the development of electric ferries using solar energy, bioenergy. or marine energy.
As the energy transition progresses, we will see ports move from consuming large amounts of one energy source to using multiple energy sources and becoming electricity producers.
As such, offshore wind power will profoundly modify the French coasts in the years to come. The first sites will be near the ports (with the launch of the first French offshore wind farm with 80 turbines in Saint-Nazaire in 2022). In the medium term, the objective is to achieve a capacity of 5.2 to 6.5 Gigawatts of offshore wind power in France by 2028.
This technology brings new dynamism to port areas in search of industrial diversification, optimized real estate income and local expertise (construction and maintenance operations).
The future offshore wind farm near the Hermann du Pasquier quay in the city of Le Havre, which will be commissioned in 2022, is presented as the “largest industrial renewable energy project in France”, and symbolizes the industrial and energy transition port. In addition, after 53 years of service, the thermal power plant in this area, which consumed 220 tonnes of coal daily, closed its doors on March 31, 2021.
Finally, it should be noted that offshore wind farms represent an opportunity for ports to produce their own hydrogen by electrolysis of seawater.
Bringing city and port closer
The energy transition is forcing governments to reconsider the links between city and port. Development projects based on an all-oil economy and the globalized boom in containerized shipping in the second half of the 20th century disconnected city and port at all levels. Ports were withdrawn from urban settings due to lack of space, with huge industrial port areas created on the outskirts of the city.
Today, this separation is called into question, marking the return of the port as a space open to the rest of the city.
For port cities, where ships coexist with locals, industry, businesses and tourism, pollution has motivated citizens to act. Local environmentalism has pushed ports to open up to cities, promoting the development of circular economies and industrial ecology.
Many ports have launched energy transition projects aimed at transforming city-port relations. The port area turns out to be an excellent framework for experimenting with new practices based on greater cooperation between local actors.
In La Rochelle, for example, environmental and energy issues were an opportunity to initiate a shared and collaborative reflection on the future of the metropolis. The La Rochelle Zero Carbon Territory project, where the agglomeration aims to become carbon neutral by 2040, the energy transition is initiated through concerted planning between the city and its port. The port is committed to initiatives that limit its environmental and energy impact, while bringing benefits to the local economy.
The roof of the submarine base of the port of La Rochelle was fitted with 7,580 solar panels in 2018. (Olivier Benoît), Author provided
In Le Havre, as in Bordeaux and elsewhere, this city-port interconnection is being reinforced by combining energy challenges and digital opportunities.
Ultimately, this should lead to the birth of “smart port cities” (connecting “smart cities” to “ports of the future”), for a “new model of urban and industrial port spaces, mixed by innovation”.
Making ports the site of modern energy
Although the environmental challenge is clearly huge and complicated, this energy transition gives us the opportunity to reinterpret ports as laboratories, and to test new practices and technologies. Concrete example: the port of Rotterdam reduced its CO2 emissions by 27% between 2016 and 2020.
Ports have always been showcases of the industrial revolution, with the arrival of steam, propellers and then metal hulls. They are often equipped with the most recent energy technologies, as shown in the painting of the port of Le Havre, by Camille Pissarro.
It is now up to them to perpetuate this heritage, a real gateway to a more sustainable and resilient economy.
Sylvain Roche is an associate researcher on energy and territorial transition at Sciences Po Bordeaux.
Translated from French by Rosie Marsland for Fast ForWord.
This article is courtesy of The Conversation and can be found in its original form here.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.