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Texas Needs Greener Ports, Greener Vessels

Posted on July 12, 2023

Ports, shipbuilders and freight companies are adopting sustainable technologies for operating eco-friendly ports and vessels to fight climate change and protect the environment. Although France and its international partners are currently leading the maritime industry in sustainability, Texas has been making steady progress since 2020 in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, waste production and pollution.

Ships and boats are marine vessels that disrupt ecosystems. Marine vessels and their ports contribute to environmental issues, such as acidification, overfishing and coral bleaching. The more people travel and trade, the more noticeable and harmful these issues become. One polluted lake turns into two polluted lakes, which turns into over 1,000 polluted lakes.

Shipping and aviation emissions have been multiplying each year due to increasing global travel and trade. Shipping cargo internationally made up almost 3% of carbon emissions caused by human activities, according to a feature on climate action by the European Commission. The International Energy Agency stated in a 2022 tracking report that emissions from international shipping also grew 5% in 2021. These emissions contribute to climate change, which then causes issues like desertification. The Aral Sea in Asia continues to dry up and contaminate the surrounding area with sand, salt and dust blown around by wind, leaving us with fewer resources and greater health hazards worldwide.

Texas loves its fish, wildlife and agriculture. It also has many different climates divided into 10 ecoregions and unique habitats, especially near the gulf coast. Species in our gulf coast, such as the oyster, filter water and protect our homes from storm surges. With growing cities, rising sea levels and a generally dry atmosphere, we need to protect our ecosystems and conserve our water.

Coastal Texas cities understand the importance of marine habitats and have been working on reducing pollution and restoring wetlands. In 2022, the Texas Restoration Area Trustees committed nearly $60 million to restore and conserve habitat, focusing on wetlands and oysters, injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

However, many of Texas’ resources and unique habitats are privately owned and thus will not benefit from collective efforts to protect the environment. Only around 7% of Texas’ land and mineral rights are state-owned. Fortunately, this includes Gulf Coast beaches, bays and submerged lands where managing ports and vessels would be beneficial to everyone.

Texas ports currently tailor environmental standards to their location. The Port of Houston and the Port of Corpus Christi adopted environmental policies with six guidelines, but Houston targets the restoration of its marshland while Corpus Christi focuses solely on port operations. The Port of Corpus Christi developed the Clean Fleet program in 2019, which gradually converted the port to low-emission vehicles, improving air quality. It then decided to create a plan to increase the reach of clean hydrogen as an energy source by working with other Texas communities.

In February 2023, the Port of Corpus Christi decided to team up with Trans Permian, and combined their ideas to power a new hydrogen hub with an improved energy connection. Trans Permian plans to strengthen the connection between Corpus Christi’s energy transportation and West Texas’ energy production using the existing infrastructure and trade. Each hub will produce clean hydrogen, decarbonize local communities and contribute more energy to the nation’s economy. Together, this combined idea would better serve West Texas, the Permian Basin and the Gulf Coast.

French organizations are currently leading the maritime transport sector in sustainable technology, such as the use of clean hydrogen as an energy source. Hydrogen-powered vessels have been spreading throughout France.

French waterway touring company, Les Canalous, offers tours of the Burgundy canals aboard a hydrogen-powered boat. The boat produces less noise thanks to its alternative energy source, which does not require fossil fuels or a noisy diesel engine. Texas companies, such as Go Rio Cruises in San Antonio, would benefit if they adopted similar hydrogen-powered boats to use during tours of our local rivers.

The French shipbuilding company, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, constructs ships for trade, transport, cruisesand military use. It also researches and develops energy-efficient maritime technology. It built the cruise ship, MSC World Europa, powered by liquefied natural gas from fuel cells supplied by a Danish company, Hoyer Motors, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Chantiers de l’Atlantique currently plans to build cruise ships with a carbon and fiberglass sail design called the Solid Sail to reduce carbon emissions. West Texas has enough wind farms and manufacturing plants to support riverboats with a more energy-efficient sail design. Houston and Austin also have vast networks of businesses and science facilities that could support further research and development in liquefied natural gas and hydrogen cells to support the alternative energy industry.

French shipping company, La Méridionale, introduced the ferry, Piana, commissioned in 2011. Still in service, it uses a chemical reaction in its particle filter to reduce sulfur oxide emissions to almost zero. The resulting reaction produces bicarbonate which is stored on board the ship until it reaches a waste recovery facility. West Texas already has several procedures for storing hazardous materials in its oil manufacturing plants, so Texan vessels could work with our companies to develop a maritime waste recovery network instead of dumping some waste into the ocean. Currently, most vessels comply with international regulations that allow them to dump waste away from the shore.

Sustainable technologies for ports and vessels can manage and reduce waste to protect surrounding environments as well as reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and conserve water and energy.

The cost of adopting sustainable technologies in the maritime industry deters ports and companies from using them. Reuters reported that building the Energy Observer 2 cost twice as much as building a traditional ship.

If we adopt more sustainable technologies for Texas’ maritime industry, we need to set our expectations and consider our goals. Can we quickly or quietly zoom across the San Antonio River? Can we power our vessels in Corpus Christi while also keeping the air clean? Can we build a hydrogen hub in West Texas to further strengthen our economy? Yes, we can. Whether we will adopt sustainable technologies to protect Texas’ coasts depends on our willingness and ability to make decisions. We can begin by helping the Texan communities that have already begun chasing that future.



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