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Could hydrogen be the solution to reform ports?

Posted on July 20, 2022

Although it may seem like an obvious concept, one of the most crucial aspects of embarking upon and completing projects that pertain to carbon capture, hydrogen solutions, sustainability and other environmental improvement criteria is simply defining the project.

Rich Byrnes, chief infrastructure officer of the Port of Houston Authority, said there’s a vast difference between talking about hydrogen and sustainability and actually doing the work to achieve those goals.

“We’ve had to drive every conversation we’ve had with companies to define a project and a business model, and understand if you’re going to work with a port, how to [determine] what the value proposition is for the port and the port’s users, as well as your own economics and profit motives. Obviously, if part of that is capturing carbon credits, which is a nebulous market, how can we help them to put that part of your agenda forward as a partner?” Byrnes asked during a panel discussion at the World Hydrogen North America Conference in Houston. “Define the roles, the project, business model and the value proposition because we all have stakeholders and shareholders to support.”

Christopher Cannon, chief sustainability officer of the Port of Los Angeles, added the importance of having a vision when assessing new project goals and how those projects meet the needs of the surrounding community.

“It’s a matter of thinking ahead. You’ve got to plan 10, 15 and even 20 years in advance when it comes to infrastructure and facilitating demand, and try to address the issues that we all address,” he explained. According to Cannon, there is also a sense of urgency when addressing local environmental concerns, and those concerns must be addressed as part of any overall environmental plan.

Further, Cannon said, time is of the essence.

“You need a near-term strategy, a medium-term strategy and a long-term strategy, and they have all got to work together to address climate change without forgetting about immediate impacts to local people and what they are breathing every day,” he said. “We have to think about these things in terms of a broad vision and thinking ahead.”

Byrnes said the Port of Houston Authority convened a sustainability action team workshop in the summer of 2021 to engage 80 stakeholders including environmental advocates, residents who live close to the Houston Ship Channel, representatives from the City of Houston and Harris County, and academia from the region’s universities.

“Define the roles, the project, business model and the value proposition because we all have stakeholders and shareholders to support.” – Rich Byrnes, Port of Houston Authority

“We asked what was important to them,” Byrnes said. “At the top of their list were clean energy and air quality, a circular economy, and community strengthening. They wanted fine particulate pollutants and nitrogen oxides reduced in their neighborhoods ‘yesterday,’ not global greenhouse emissions solved by 2050. They recognize that climate change is a big challenge, and so [industry] needs to do that too, but how do we deliver it tomorrow when the hydrogen solution is a matter of years or decades away?”

Jeffrey Pollock, chief strategy and sustainability officer of the Port of Corpus Christi, said that while the Port of Corpus Christi acknowledges there are some strategies that will address performance and solutions with regard to air quality, climate action and climate adaptation, “we want to be very granular and very tactical in differentiating the time scales over which we address certain local air shed issues versus those that are climate related, and really acknowledge how different those spatial scales and strategies are.”

Pollock observed that the “good news” is that mindfulness of environmental justice directly benefits “almost every spatial scale.”

“Unlike some of our industrial investments in the past, we have an opportunity to build on lessons learned over the past 70 years and make changes,” he said. “A high tide raises all boats.”

Pollock expressed optimism about what these opportunities can mean for local communities in the immediate vicinities of ports.

“I think that’s one of the exciting promises,” Pollock concluded.


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