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Ports invest in power and alternative fuels

Offshore support vessels connect to shore power in Aberdeen South Harbour

Posted on April 19, 2023

Port of Aberdeen provides onshore power, Antwerp invests in low-emissions vessels, Associated Terminals transitions to Cat engines and MPA adds LNG and methanol bunkering.

Ships visiting these ports can use electric power from shore to run onboard systems and accommodation instead of using engines, saving fuel and cutting emissions. Some ports are retrofitting quaysides with shore power, Norway being the world leader in this, while other ports will include shore power infrastructure during new construction projects.

In the UK, one of the biggest port developments in a generation incorporated shore power and capacity for bunkering alternative fuels.

Port of Aberdeen invested around £500M (US$624M) to develop the south harbour, as one of largest marine projects in the UK, with shore power incorporated from the start. Completion is expected Q2 2023, making Aberdeen one of the largest ports in Scotland with 1.5-km of deepwater berths and around 7,000 vessel calls each year.

“We started investing in shore power three years’ ago,” says Port of Aberdeen chief commercial officer Roddy James. “Around 97% of port emissions comes from third-party vessels, which need large amounts of power.”

To provide power to all vessels visiting Aberdeen’s north and south harbours, it would need to supply 53 GWh per year across 48 berths. To reduce the challenge, Port of Aberdeen considered the high-impact berthing areas. It identified 19 key berths in the port, representing 50% of total emissions and requiring 27 GWh per year.

“We identified suitable technology as we worked through the commercial to development phase,” said Mr James during Riviera Maritime Media’s Offshore Energy webinar week, in March 2023. “We needed to review technologies and plans considering the challenges from both the port’s and clients’ perspectives, but with uncertainty of future port utilisation and the work required.”

Strategies included becoming a port of choice for innovation and collaboration in maritime decarbonisation; to become net zero in emissions; and future-proof harbours for multi-modal operations in multiple sectors and cargoes, for offshore oil, gas and renewables and for cruise ships and ferries.

“For the south harbour, we are future-proofed and ready for future fuels and vessels,” says Mr James. “We designed shore power and alternative fuels into the infrastructure with bunkering pits and plug-and-play for future fuels and electrical power.”

Port of Aberdeen is also retrofitting the north harbour to offer shore power to vessels working in the cargo, offshore and passenger sectors.

“This is an ongoing programme of retrofitting and repurposing quaysides, with four projects underway with significant capital expenditure required to implement this at scale,” says Mr James. One of the first projects will provide shore power to ferries this year and another will install seven double-stations on a quayside peninsular to provide power to 14 vessels at a time.

This power infrastructure will be available to oceangoing, offshore and harbour tugs operating in the Port of Aberdeen.

“Because of the capex required, public co-investment and partnerships in green infrastructure development, aligned with economic incentives and regulations, are essential,” says Mr James.

Port of Aberdeen spent 10 years planning investment in the south harbour, including facilities for constructing and maintaining the next round of offshore wind projects in Scotland. These will require tugs to manoeuvre and tow floating wind structures and assist ships in the port with large components and equipment.

“Planning large infrastructure and upgrading electrical network are major challenges for ports without the infrastructure in place,” says Mr James. “Planning is all about knowing the supply and future demand.” Prior to investment, the port produced business cases based on forecasts of future growth and demand.

“We were looking at what was coming over the horizon and preparing for this,” Mr James continues.

“We needed to know the demand for fuels and power in the future on ships and offshore energy. We worked with vessel owners and aligned with suppliers and authorities to achieve the same goal – to consume less to reach net zero.”

New cranes arrive in Antwerp on ZPMC heavy transport ship assisted by Boluda Towage tugs

Expansion and low-emissions fleet

In Belgium, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is modernising, with new terminal hardware installed and low-emissions harbour vessels purchased. The latest investment was at DP World Antwerp Gateway, where three new container handling cranes were installed in April.

These cranes, able to handle a width of 26 container rows on a ship, were transported by heavy-lift ship and unloaded on the eastern side of the Deurganck dock, assisted by harbour tugs. This is part of DP World’s €200M (US$220M) investment plan to modernise and expand capacity at the terminal, initiated in 2019 and supported by the European Commission.

Port of Antwerp-Bruges president of the board of directors and City of Antwerp vice-mayor Annick De Ridder says this level of investment enables the port to remain an economic engine of Flanders and one of Europe’s greatest transport hubs.

“These three gigantic container cranes at the Antwerp Gateway terminal illustrate the growth of the terminal,” she says.

Port of Antwerp-Bruges has invested in hybrid-electric patrol boats and has trialled using hydrogen and methanol for tugboat fuel. Port of Antwerp-Bruges chief operating officer Rob Smeets says the port acquired two vessels with hybrid-electric propulsion for zero-emissions patrols around the harbours and replaced three of its oldest conventional tugboats with three reverse stern drive tugs, with higher efficiency and lower emissions from Damen Shipyards.

Port of Antwerp-Bruges also invested in Hydrotug 1, the world’s first harbour tug powered by hydrogen in dual-fuel engines. This was built in Spain and was testing hydrogen bunkering and onboard propulsion systems in Ostend, Belgium, according to automatic identification system data in mid-April.

The port is a hub of innovation for hydrogen with Hydrotug 1 designer CMB.Tech also working with PSA Belgium to introduce a dual-fuel straddle carrier that uses hydrogen to replace up to 70% of diesel consumption.

The Belgian port, along with Anglo-Belgian Corp, was also instrumental in testing methanol fuel, converting an existing 30-m tugboat Methatug with 50 tonnes of bollard pull.

Mr Smeets says Port of Antwerp-Bruges wants to reduce CO2 by 35% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels, and 55% by 2030. With around 85% of its own emissions coming from the marine fleet, this is where future investment will be focused.

“We have a fleet of 20 tugs and dredgers and barges – we need them to be fit for the future,” says Mr Smeets. “We are looking at greener tugs and looking to renew our own tugs to reduce emissions with energy-efficient vessels.”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges has not yet decided how this will be achieved, whether with methanol, hydrogen, batteries, or a combination of all these. It has 18 more tugs to replace, upgrade or convert to reach its emissions goals.

US terminal equipment upgrade

In Louisiana, US, Associated Terminals is working with Caterpillar to cut emissions in the port of Convent, which handles 25-30M tonnes of material on the lower Mississippi River each year. This requires a fleet of 15 derrick barges equipped with large-capacity cranes and buckets for transloading cargo.

Each crane is supported by up to four pieces of mobile equipment and power systems to maintain operations. Associated Terminals started transitioning that fleet from multiple brands of equipment to Caterpillar marine engines, wheel loaders, excavators and generators.

Associated Terminals director of maintenance and engineering Curtis Blank says involving Caterpillar reduced operational complexity and improved reliability.

“The biggest thing keeping us up at night in this industry is the complexity of the operations,” he says. “So much must work together. Any weakness creates a vulnerability in not being able to serve customers.”

For example, Associated Terminals experienced a power systems failure on a derrick barge in November 2021 on a non-Caterpillar component. Louisiana Cat was called in to assist and provided a replacement before the competitor provided a quote for a replacement.

“A failure like that could have cost us a week of downtime,” says Mr Blank. “Instead, we had the vessel back in operation in 24 hours, which really helped with our contractual operations.” Louisiana Cat has since been tasked with supporting the rest of the derrick barges to transition to Caterpillar equipment.

Associated Terminals uses both the mobile Cat App and VisionLink, a web-based fleet management tool, to monitor equipment operations and maintenance. Many of the Cat marine engines and generators are hooked up to Product Health Connect, a condition monitoring service developed by Louisiana Cat, providing diagnosis and troubleshooting.

“Issues we used to struggle with and things that used to persist for a long time, we can now predict,” says Mr Blank. “I often get a call from the dealership being proactive, and we will go out to a certain vessel to make a change or a fix before it even experiences an issue.”


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