US ports to build out nearly $50 bln in green infrastructure over the next decade

The U.S. ports are expected to build out nearly $50 billion in green infrastructure over the next decade – and hydrogen is set to play a significant role in the industry’s plans, a recent survey from the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) shows.

Illustration. Courtesy of Port of Los Angeles

The survey covered AAPA’s membership and showed that ports are most interested in electric cargo handling equipment, shore power for vessels at berth, electric grid infrastructure, and hydrogen energy infrastructure. AAPA is the voice of more than 130 public port authorities in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Some of the key findings of the survey show that 58% of the respondents have begun studying projects to serve vessels with alternative fuels, including hydrogen, LNG, and ammonia. Furthermore, 63% of ports have completed projects top electrify terminal equipment and fleet vehicles. Electrification of land-side equipment represents the most common type of electrification projects at ports.

That being said, 83% of port authorities said that they were having difficulties sourcing equipment and materials for green infrastructure from U.S. manufacturers.

What is more, in order for these projects to take place the ports need funding.

 The Inflation Reduction Act has earmarked funding for ports by introducing Grants to Reduce Air Pollution at Ports, worth $3 billion, which will support the purchase and installation of zero-emission equipment and technology at ports. The act also includes $1 billion intended for the replacement of heavy-duty vehicles with zero-emission alternatives.

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On the hydrogen front, the Port of Corpus Christi has set its sights on becoming a green hydrogen hub and is working on several projects to make this a reality. Most recently, the port’s Horizons Clean Hydrogen Hub (HCH2) decided to join hands with Trans Permian’s H2Hub in submitting a single application through the US DOE Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs Programme. The port is the prime applicant for the HCH2 and a common denominator to dozens of discrete clean hydrogen production projects in the proposed hub.

The planned projects within the H2Hub include production and hydrogen derivatives from diverse feedstocks as well as mobility projects, including hydrogen fuel cell bus manufacturing, hydrogen refuelling stations, municipal transit projects, and freight mobility projects.

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Hydrogen fuel cells have multiple benefits for electrifying many of the port vehicles and equipment that are currently powered by diesel, such as overhead cranes, gantries, container handlers, terminal tractors, drayage trucks, and more, Gus Block of Nuvera Fuel Cells said at the recently held POWERS Summit.

As explained, ports present myriad use cases for fuel cell power and are also ideal locations for establishing hydrogen infrastructure to support the machinery used on-site, as well as for providing hydrogen to marine vessels and to drayage trucks and other vehicles that constantly enter and leave the port.

Ports can also take advantage of their strategic positions to become hydrogen import/export hubs, an opportunity being explored by multiple port authorities. As off-shore wind projects develop over the coming years, ports become the natural channel for hydrogen produced from electrolysis as a means for storing large amounts of renewable electricity.

POWERS program

The inaugural summit was held in Tampa, Florida on January 24-26, 2023 gathering port executives, energy leaders, environmental experts, and other key stakeholders engaged in forward-looking conversations about pressing sustainability challenges and emerging solutions at ports in the US and beyond.

The POWERS program calls on federal policymakers to advance five key policy pillars in order to meet the nation’s energy supply and sustainability objectives. These include increasing American energy exports, especially within the context of sanctions against Russia and the need to replace its oil and gas exports, in the European Union in particular.

The U.S. is ramping up its production of oil and LNG to meet the growing demand in the E.U., which is working on replacing the dependence on Russian imports. Diversification of energy imports is one side of the equation, while investment in renewable energy sources is the other important part.

The second pillar is the ramping up of production and use of alternative fuels such as LNG, propane, hydrogen, methanol and ammonia in land-side vehicles and marine vessels.

Ports may also serve as hydrogen production hubs that would allow energy distribution across sectors for transportation decarbonization.

The third pillar is enhancing port electrification, including the installation of microgrid technology, local power generation, and electric vehicles. To reduce emissions, ports need infrastructure upgrades and financial incentives. The port authorities are also calling for the strengthening of port resilience to protect the supply chain and mitigate the impact of heat waves, hurricanes, rising seas, ice storms, and cyber events. As a result, ports want to receive substantial funding through the Department of Energy and FEMA’s ‘BRIC’ program.

Finally, the fifth pillar is the need for the build-out of offshore wind infrastructure. Ports are crucial as manufacturing and marshaling spaces for offshore wind turbines. Today only 29 acres of marshaling space is operational for offshore wind energy projects, but hundreds more are needed.

The offshore wind power industry is expected to create 181,000 U.S. jobs by 2050.

A major topic of discussion at the POWERS Summit was the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization.

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The Blueprint highlights hydrogen fuel cells as one of three key pillars of transportation sector solutions to reach a net-zero US economy in 2050, alongside battery electric vehicles and renewable liquid fuels.

The Blueprint builds on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which together represent historic investments in sustainable clean energy and transportation systems. It also exemplifies President Biden’s goals of securing a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.