March 11, 2009 – Vol.13 No.51
A RETURN TO GREEN SHIPPING.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
In the U.S., roughly 50 percent of the population lives within 50 miles of a coast. It seems likely that around the globe that statistic is repeated with perhaps even a higher portion living near the seas. High concentrations of population mean high levels of commerce and economic activity, which means high levels of the transport of goods and materials between population centers along those coasts
Before there were roads, railways and engines to power vehicles, the transport of goods between coastal cities was largely by way of waterways and the open ocean. Shipping goods was “green” too. Billowing white sails propelled ships from port to port without a drop of fuel or a plume of emissions.
The steam engine began the turn away from green shipping as coal-fired coasters delivered goods to ports of call and railroads began to replace cargo ships. But the most recent evolution in coastal shipping has come with the building of superhighways, which has led to long distance trucking as a way to keep commerce flowing.
As anyone who has traveled the Interstates can attest: truckers rule the roads. (And automobile drivers aren’t happy about that.) Further, while shipping by tractor trailer is obviously popular, it is not the most energy efficient way to transport goods.
Railroads can move a ton of freight over 400 miles on a gallon of fuel. But railroads are limited by the infrastructure – rails, bridges and depots – needed to support them.
Barges and tugs are significantly more energy efficient than trucks. One truck carrying 25 tons of freight consumes 370 percent more fuel than a tug and barge carrying 1750 tons of freight. But barges and tugs are usually limited to relatively calm inland waterways while only occasionally traversing short stretches of open ocean.
Then there are ships. A ship consumes 75 - 80 percent less fuel than a truck per ton hauled, and a ship can use many of the waterways used by barges. Ships certainly need good ports, but fortunately many coastal cities already have the facilities to accommodate international trade. However, what coastal shipping needs is ships: specially designed, small container ships more suited to coastal trade than overseas shipping.
Now in the halls of Congress is the Marine Highway Bill spearheaded by Stas Margaronis, president of Santa Maria Shipowning & Trading. The proposal calls for Congress to allocate $50 million a year for five years to finance federal loan guarantees sufficient to build a fleet of 66 ships to ply the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.
The ships would be built in the U.S. bringing back to life an age-old skill which has unfortunately been in decline in recent decades. The ships could not be built overseas. A U.S. law, the Jones Act, requires that all coastal ships be built in the United States, be U.S. flagged and be manned by U.S. crews. Supporters of the bill say that 6 - 12 shipyards already operating could build the ships. The whole Marine Highway project would create 20,000 jobs with an average wage of $30 an hour with benefits.
As envisioned the project would do more than save fuel, cut emissions. and create jobs. With 300, 53-foot containers each, the coastal ships would remove 20,000 truckloads daily off coastal highways. (That’s 20,000 truckloads daily.) The removal of the trucks would relieve traffic congestion and reduce maintenance, repair and upgrades needed to accommodate those large trucks. (Heavy weight trucks are more damaging to roads than relatively light cars.)
Job loss in trucking might not be significant, if that’s a concern; on the coasts truckers would be kept busy on short haul harbor pickups and deliveries.
As proposed the Marine Highway would get greener over time – almost reverting back to the days of sail. Eventually ships could be electrically driven with solar panels or wind generators charging batteries.
The trucks that deliver the goods from the ports could be battery powered as well: These trucks, along with drayage tractors used within port operations, are already available.
If there’s a concern that slower-than-trucks coastal shipping is bad for commerce it’s unfounded for the most part. For the shipment of non-perishable goods time is irrelevant. Once the supply flow has started it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there as long as the next load is right behind it. Speed is not necessary for the shipment of all goods.
Recently, Caterpillar Marine Power Systems and Farwest Steel Corporation have announced their support of the Marine Highway Initiative. Caterpillar now builds marine engines powered by ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel that provides the same low emissions as new trucks. Farwest provides state-of-the-art steel cutting, marking and priming facilities for the shipbuilding and construction industries.
Stas Margaronis has sought to construct small container ships for the U.S. coastal trades since 1998.
Santa Maria Shipowning & Trading
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