Port of Detroit provides blueprint to reducing harmful emissions

by Derek Clouthier

The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority has embarked on a mission to reduce its carbon footprint and improve air quality—a venture that was presented during the CITT’s Canada’s Logistics Conference in Halifax, N.S., June 6.

Senior carbon reduction scientist Dr. Robert Moorcroft and Emily Alexander of Tunley Environmental said it was not easy to get the various businesses operating at the Port of Detroit to buy into the decarbonization project, so motivation was key.

Alexander added that the port itself posed additional challenges because of its size and the fact that each port terminal is privately owned, resulting in hesitation to share data, as each was competing with the others for business.

The port also had a bad reputation when it came to air quality and, as Alexander pointed out, had the highest number of asthma cases reported in 2022, earning it the nickname “the asthma capital of the world.”

Alexander said that in addition to reducing the port’s carbon emissions, the purpose of the project is to help improve the working conditions for those employed at the port and the living conditions of people residing in the area.

Part of the process of building trust and relationships with port businesses included establishing an emissions boundary, outlining what areas would fall inside the emissions scope and what would not.

Shipping activities, including fuel usage along the Detroit River and River Rouge, or while docked; goods handling, such as the equipment required to move goods on and off ships and onto the next transportation mode; and drayage, the movement of trucks or rail within Wayne County, were all examined. Falling out of the scope of emissions monitoring was the individual industrial activity of the businesses operating at the port, including the processing or further use of goods received on-site.

Initial baseline assessment results revealed that the total emissions from the Port of Detroit in 2022 were 27,869 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), with the vast majority coming from truck and rail movements (15,299 tCO2e).

To combat these numbers, Moorcroft highlighted some of the strategies employed at the Port of Detroit that could make an immediate impact, such as encouraging companies to participate in the Green Marine Program, which includes best practices to reduce air, noise and dust pollution, as well as independent audits and certifications. Other strategies to improve air quality included air monitoring and community alerts and changing fuel sources, such as biofuels, to reduce pollutants.

“The main reason for biofuels is that they improve air quality and emissions without having to make changes to your operations,” said Moorcroft.

Decarbonization targets for the project vary when looking at shipping, goods handling and drayage.

For drayage, the goal is to implement 25 per cent biofuel usage by 2027 and increase that to 50 per cent by 2030, along with the use of hydrogen and electric options. By 2040, Moorcroft hopes to see full usage of zero-emission vehicles on the drayage side, as well as 100 per cent usage of biofuel, alternative fuel and electric on the shipping side.

For the handling of goods at the Port of Detroit, the goal is to use biofuel in all compatible equipment and 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, as well as either electric or another zero-emission technology by 2035.

The Port of Detroit says that in addition to reducing its carbon footprint, the project is expected to improve coordination and future planning within the port, engagement with local residents, and strategic economic development for maritime trade.