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APL to Test New Safer, More Cost-Effective Cold-Ironing System This Summer

The APL China moves into San Francisco Bay.

Global shipping company APL, the world’s eighth-largest container carrier, will test a new cold-ironing system to reduce in-port emissions at US seaports.

With financial support from the Port of Oakland (California), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), APL will test the new system for 18 hours aboard the 863-foot container vessel APL China.

Cold-ironing—also known as alternative marine power—isn’t new. Vessels connect (plug-in) to a clean shore-side electrical power source while docked, enabling them to shut down their diesel-powered generators. That would eliminate more than 1,000 pounds of exhaust pollutants in a single containership port call.

Because of the potential environmental benefits, port authorities and air quality regulators have embraced cold-ironing. But the maritime industry has been wary, citing safety, operational and cost concerns in making cumbersome cable connections from ship to shore—especially for the large percentage of the world’s existing container fleet that hasn’t been constructed with cold-ironing in mind.

To reduce those concerns, engineers at APL devised a plan to connect a single high voltage cable from a shore-side power source to the vessel’s bow thruster circuit. The bow thruster is a propeller mounted in a ship’s bow to push it sideways during docking.

The bow thruster is driven by a high-voltage electrical motor. The motor is connected to the rest of the vessel’s low-voltage power system through a high-voltage cable and transformer. When the shore-side power source is connected to this circuit in the bow, the electricity can be back fed through the cable and transformer to the vessel’s main switchboard to power the entire ship.

By using the high-voltage circuit, the vessel-to-shore connection can be made with one 3-inch diameter cable instead of 10 cables, as in other cold-ironing designs. This reduces the cost and complexity of making the connection each time the vessel is docked. Furthermore, using the bow thruster transformer eliminates the need to install a costly additional transformer to facilitate cold-ironing.

Because a ship’s auxiliary engines are shut down during cold-ironing, APL estimates that it can eliminate 1,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, 70 pounds of sulfur oxides (SO2) and 15 pounds of particulate matter in a single 24-hour port call.

The plan also offers benefits that could accelerate the adoption of cold-ironing in the industry, according to APL:

  • The cost to retrofit vessels for cold-ironing would be about $225,000, far less than original industry projections of $1.5 million.

  • Safety is assured on two counts: 1) only one, relatively small cable is required to connect a vessel to shore power and 2) the ship’s transformer can run in parallel with the portable power source, allowing the vessel to switch over to shore power without temporarily cutting power.

  • Vessels should be able to connect to shore-side power at any port worldwide.

APL plans to test the cold-ironing concept at Middle Harbor Terminal next month with its technical partners: Progressive Electric, of Los Angeles; and Wittmar Engineering and Construction Inc. of Signal Hill, Ca. The APL China will be connected to a portable generator powered by liquefied natural gas.

During the test, APL will determine if the vessel’s transformer can handle the continuous load from a shore-side power source. If the test is successful, APL will begin to assess broader application of the cold-ironing concept.

We’ve seen a number of innovative proposals to curb vessel emissions. We’re taking part in this test because it holds the promise of significant benefits for air quality in and around the port.

—Omar Benjamin, Executive Director of the Port of Oakland

In March, APL announced a voluntary decision to use cleaner-burning low-sulfur fuel in APL vessels berthed at the Port of Seattle. Last December the shipping line said it will test fuel emulsification—injecting water into diesel fuel—to reduce vessel emissions.



Not all ships have bow thrusters.


I can't believe these ships have not been connecting to electrical shore ties until now. This is common practice for many ships and boats in the US.


It's a lot easier to connect a boat than a huge container ship or large tanker.


Very few large ships have no bow trhusters.

Stan Peterson

Having largely succeeded in cleaning up the LDV fleet, the environmental regulators aree turning to three areas largely ignored until now.

These are Rail locomotives, Marine vessels near shore, and off road vehicles including small power engines for tools such a lawn mowers, et cetera.

On all three fronts technological advances made for the LDV automotive fleets, have made addressing these issues much more feasible.

Where locomotives are not elctrical driven already, they are usually deisel or diesel-electric combinations.
The deisel electrics lend themselves to extensions as series hybrids which they basically alreaady are, minus the batteries. Withthe reductiosn is price of batteries, htese locomotives can store energy to allow grade climbs and acceleration increasinf their pulling capaicity. The advances to accomodate T2B5 LDV fleet, are directly transferable to the rail fleet's diesels. In principle the maintenance attention given to these capital items allows for regular maintenance of the emission equipment and the cost on installation and retrofit is little in comparison to the intital capital cost.

For off-road equipment the same consideration applies and there is little reason to think that in the near future bulldozers, road graders and other heavy contruction equipment will not be rquired to be T2B5 compliant.

Light duty power equipment like mowers and other equipment are now seeing atention to apply at least rudimentary automotive style cleanup equipment such as catalytic converters to their small emngines, et cetera. It is surprising but a simple gas powered leaf blower using a fractional HP gasoline egine produces pollution equivalent to dozens of autos.

Within but a half a decade the uS air quality will be compliance to nwere standards much tougher than the original limits set out as impossibel targets back in the seventies.

Even now virtually all the US air quality is pretty much an accomplished but unheralded event even in the few problems areas like the LA air inversion basin, Houston and metro New York.


Actually railroad lines can be completely electrified, eliminating the need for a diesel engine altogether.


Eric, how much copper would it take to eletrify all of our rails? How many substations?


Strangely this is in some ways the reverse of Russian plans to have floating nuclear power plants, with several potential customers in SE Asia.

The article says various emissions will be 'eliminated'. I presume that is net, not just moved offsite.


In my opinion cold ironing is a waste of time, far better to just clean up the ships altogether with clean fuels. Cleaning up the fuel wouild produce cleaner emissions 100% of the time, rather than worrying about the 5% of time they spend in port unloading and loading.
It's long overdue that the shipping and rail industries cleans up their act with clean fuels instead of spewing crap out on a 24 hour basis.


Posted by: Aussie | Jun 16, 2007 8:45:34 PM
In my opinion cold ironing is a waste of time, far better to just clean up the ships altogether with clean fuels.


What pray-tell are "Clean Fuels".
All liquid fuels emit polutants.

If by "clean" you mean less CO2, and I assume that means biofuels, then you're sorely mistaken.

BioFuels are worse than Petroleum fuels in net CO2 emmisions.


If you were assuming Hydrogen was the answer.
Then you're even more gullable than I thought.

Hydrogen from California grid electricity puts up more CO2 than gasoline, which puts up more CO2 than diesel.

Even Hydrogen from reformed natural gas is effectively no better than Diesel. Which is exactly what they are burning right now.


Clean as in ULSD for generators, and even LSD for main engines instead of the sulfer laden crap they burn now. Ships are also massive pieces of equipment and easily have room to spare for adding emissions equipment.
I've worked on oil tankers in years gone by and now wrok in the refinery business, if cars can be cleaned up then so can ships and railroad locomotives.

hampden wireless

I would love to see a large cruise ship try this. I imagine they consume more power then some of the small islands they visit. Would work in the major us ports though.

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