10 Ways for the Freight Sector to Lessen its Environmental Impact

by | Mar 19, 2010

seabridgeThe future of transporting goods includes solar powered ships, GPS truck-tolling systems and advanced diesel-electric engines, according to “The Good Haul” report from the Environmental Defense Fund.

The freight sector represents about 25 percent of the U.S. transportation sector emissions, or about 8 percent of all U.S. emissions.

Since 1990, emissions attributed to freight have climbed 60 percent, compared to 27 percent for passenger travel, according to the report.

The report looks at 10 categories of projects that are helping improve freight transport while also reducing its environmental impact.

1.  Port and corridor cleanup plans

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program is one example of a way to reduce emissions in a freight corridor. About one-fourth of U.S. rail freight goes through Chicago, and that is expected to grow. CREATE, while not specifically a cleanup plan, includes elements that will lead to reductions of about 1,800 tons of emissions.

2. Shoreside power

So-called “cold-ironing,” or plugging a docked ship into a power transmission line, is seen as a major way to reduce emissions in port cities. Efforts to standardize connections are key for success.

3. Ship cleanup

Because most large ocean-going ships burn low-grade fuel, there are more associated pollutants. SkySails, a German company, has been putting large towing kites on ocean-going vessels as a way to lessen the need for fuel. In one test, using the towing kite helped reduce emissions up to 35 percent annually. The Beluga SkySails vessel was able to save $1,000 in fuel a day.

Solar vessels also are starting to gain acceptance, too, the report notes.

4. Coastal shipping

In the U.S., coastal shipping is not widely used. But in Europe, the Marco Polo program aims to remove the equivalent of 700,000 truck trips per year between Paris and Berlin.

One example in the U.S. is SeaBridge Freight (pictured), an intermodal service between Port Manatee, Fla., and Brownsville, Texas. In addition to reducing freight emissions, the service costs 29 percent less per pound than trucking between the two locations.

5. Rail yard and port cargo handling equipment

Retrofitting and replacing diesel cargo equipment with electricity and/or natural gas-powered equipment is gaining vogue.

For instance, the Green Goat at the Norfolk International Terminal in Virginia is a battery-dominant hybrid train engine that switches loads from yard-to-yard.

6. Diesel engine emissions reductions and incentives

Retrofitting old diesel engines with diesel particulate filters, oxidation catalysts and other devices is one way to reduce pollutants associated with emissions.

7. Truck tolling

Preventing congestion by putting tolls on a truck’s tons of emissions, as well as miles driven, motivates truck companies to use cleaner fuel and smarter supply chain management. The PierPASS program in California is one example.

8. Truck stop electrification

Keeping trucks from idling during breaks at truck stops is seen as a major way to reduce emissions and fuel use. More and more truck stops, as well as state governments such as Oregon, are adding electrical hookups for big rigs along major highways.

9. Logistics

Because the typical truck drives empty for up to 14,000 miles a year, wasting 2,400 gallons of fuel and producing 26.4 tons of emissions, using smart logistics to ensure there are fewer empty trucks is one way to save money and reduce emissions.

Ryder Trucking has a GPS fleet location system called RydeSmart to refine routes and detect engine inefficiencies.

10. On-the-horizon technologies for rail, port and maritime

In the future, battery powered locomotives and electromagnetic cargo conveyors are seen as ways to help reduce emissions.

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