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Container Shipping Ports Clean Alternative Fuels Gains

New Air Pollution Study Reports Clean Alternative Fuels Gains at Top U.S. and International Container Shipping Ports

BOULDER, Colo., Feb 25, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) — U.S. and international container shipping ports are among the world’s biggest sources of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, because of their reliance on diesel fuel for goods movement. But progress toward reducing harmful emissions by switching to clean alternative fuels is gaining momentum worldwide, according to a new research study, “Container Ports and Air Pollution,” published by Energy Futures, Inc. The study found that natural gas is currently the leading alternative fuel for goods movement at U.S. container ports, while hybrid electric vehicles are gaining popularity in Asia.

The 77-page report presents findings from a 10-month-long study that included on-site visits to evaluate air pollution control efforts at top container ports in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The new Energy Futures study updates and expands on a report titled “U.S. Container Ports and Air Pollution: A Perfect Storm,” which was published in February, 2008. That study identified environmental protection alternative fuel programs at each of the Top 10 U.S. container ports, including their use of natural gas, biodiesel or hybrid electric vehicles.

James S. Cannon, President, Energy Futures. Inc., said, “A key premise of our studies of air pollution in the container shipping industry is that alternative fuels offer viable options for use in goods movement operations to replace polluting fuels that are derived from oil. These clean-burning fuels are known to work well in port goods movement, and there is great promise that they can be more widely used in the shipping supply chain.” Mr. Cannon unveiled the new report to an international audience in a speech today at the GreenPorts 2009 Conference in Naples, Italy.

Overall, the new Energy Futures report is a “call to action” that asks decision makers to increase alternative fuel use to protect public health and environmental quality in port communities when they formulate policies designed to maintain port growth.

Included in the new report are updated profiles that showcase air pollution control efforts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA; the Port of New York and New Jersey; the Port of Savannah, GA; the Port of Oakland, CA; the Port of Hampton Roads, VA; the Port of Seattle, WA; the Port of Tacoma, WA; the Port of Houston, TX, and the Port of Charleston, SC. Case studies at the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the Port of Hong Kong are also included.

The research clearly shows that 2008 was the busiest year yet for innovative new environmental efforts, particularly at the top U.S. container ports. Many ports are taking action to reduce the pollution they generate through alternative fuel and advanced technology programs. In 2008, for example, regional truck programs were launched at the three California ports — Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland — that are expected to deploy thousands of natural gas-powered goods movement trucks during the next few years.

Cannon explained that the U.S. is the largest importer of containerized goods, yet the millions of containers handled at U.S. ports annually comprise only about 10 percent of the global container trade. The study documents significant progress during 2008 in environmental programs affecting international goods movement. Most importantly, the London-based International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted amendments to regulations governing air pollution from ships.

The IMO revisions call for a progressive reduction in the global sulfur cap on bunkerfuel, from the current limit of 45,000 parts per million to 5,000 parts per million. “The bunkerfuel that powers most ships is the dregs of oil refining,” Cannon said. Typically, container ships burn bunkerfuel when idle in port, to provide for their electrical needs.

“Switching entirely from bunkerfuel to natural gas to power container ships would significantly lower emissions,” he said. “Particulate matter pollution has been shown to decline 70 percent, while nitrogen oxides fall 72 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions are virtually eliminated when bunkerfuel is replaced by natural gas.”

Europe’s largest container port, located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, manages an extensive array of programs designed to reduce air pollution from container handling. For example, the port is studying the use of natural gas as a fuel for hundreds of barges that daily carry containers to inland destinations.

In Asia, the study’s review of port clean-up efforts included Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Onsite Energy Futures researchers found several port programs involving the use of alternative fuels and advanced propulsion technologies. Various applications of electrical energy are the current alternatives of choice in the region.

“Air Pollution and Container Ports” is available for downloading at no charge at

About Energy Futures, Inc.

Founded in 1979 to study energy and related environmental issues in the transportation sector, Energy Futures publishes the quarterly international journal “The Clean Fuels and Electric Vehicles Report,” and the bimonthly newsletter “Hybrid Vehicles.” James S. Cannon, President of Energy Futures, has studied alternative transportation fuels since 1986 and is the author or editor of six books on the topic, more than a dozen reports and over 50 professional papers. His most recent book, “Reducing Climate Impacts in the Transportation Sector,” was published in October 2008. He also researched and wrote the 2008 report, “U.S. Container Ports and Air Pollution: A Perfect Storm.”

SOURCE: Energy Futures, Inc.

Return Of Diesel Passenger Cars

Dealer sees big problem

Anita Lam and Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Environmentalists and academics cautiously welcomed the likely return of diesel passenger cars, but a luxury-car dealer said it would be fortunate if his company could find a model that matched the new emissions standard by the end of this year.

Chong Got, managing director of Audi’s distributor, Premium Motors, said Audi’s factory in Europe would produce 20 diesel engine models this year meeting the Euro-V diesel emissions standard. However, they expected only one could meet the emissions standard of a Euro-V petrol car.

“It is not impossible to impose a petrol car’s emission standards on a diesel car. The problem is whether the manufacturers would want to alter the engines for you when their efforts mean only a boost in sales of several hundred more vehicles.”

In September, Volvo said it had created a Euro-V diesel engine as clean as Euro-VI. Bluetec, a green technology for luxury performance vehicles introduced by Mercedes-Benz, meets even the most stringent Californian diesel emissions standard, but the configurations do not match the requirements in Hong Kong.

Crown Motors, the dealer for Daihatsu, Lexus and Toyota, is also searching for qualified models, with a sales manager saying the company would try Europe if it failed to find anything in Japan.

Edward Lau Che-feng, director of Friends of the Earth, said it was time the public and government adopted an open mind towards diesel cars with the latest emissions-control technology. However, the government should increase the phasing out of outdated diesel vehicles at the same time. “Let us be open-minded … we might fine-tune our strategy, giving more weight to a car’s fuel efficiency and climate-friendliness without significantly compromising air quality,” he said.

Dennis Leung Yiu-cheung, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong, believed that the most advanced diesel cars would have minimal additional impact on air quality. “There should be little problem, as most private cars are not used as frequently as diesel buses and trucks,” he said.

Drive To Get Fuel-Efficient Diesel Cars Back On Roads

Motor traders in global hunt for model to match standards

Anita Lam and Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Diesel-driven cars may soon return to the streets of Hong Kong – and in a much cleaner and environment-friendly form, after being phased out in favour of petrol engines over a decade ago, motor traders say.

They have started a global hunt for the right diesel model after the environmental watchdog introduced what they called an “improved flexibility in vehicle emissions standards” last month.

The new standard has led to some enthusiasm among the traders badly hit by the economic downturn as they expect diesel vehicles to be popular among cost-conscious drivers who will benefit from diesel prices lower than petrol.

The traders said diesel engines were also a third more fuel-efficient than petrol ones, emitted less carbon dioxide, were more durable and could generate greater power.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) recently rejected suggestions from the Hong Kong Motor Traders Association that Euro V emissions standards be adopted for diesel cars to facilitate imports, as diesel standards still lagged behind those for petrol cars.

But the department has since dropped its insistence that imported diesel cars meet the latest Californian standards and associated testing procedures – adopted in Hong Kong in 2006 – which motor traders have said were “virtually unattainable”.

And it has said it is also prepared to accept diesel cars which meet or surpass Euro V emissions standards for petrol cars. The same applies to diesel cars which meet the Japanese emissions standard for 2009.

The department has become more flexible in its requirements because the Euro V petrol car standards, with tightened curbs on nitrogen oxide emissions and new limits on particulate matter, have become broadly equivalent to Californian standards.

“It is still a very difficult task for us to find a diesel car that matches the standard of a petrol car, but there is a chance now at least that we can find something as we are now talking about configurations of European and Japanese vehicles, not the American ones which are totally different from ours,” Michael Lee, chairman of the Hong Kong Motor Traders Association, said.

Diesel engines have in the past been unwelcome because of their pollution potential – smoky emissions with high levels of particulate matter known as a major health risk.

Diesel engines also generated high levels of smog-inducing nitrogen oxides.

To discourage their use, the government adopted the most stringent Californian standards from 1998 and now imposes vehicle licence fees on diesel vehicles up to 37 per cent higher than on petrol ones.

But Hong Kong Automobile Association vice-president James Kong Yat-hung said the lower running cost of diesel cars would be attractive as the economy worsened. “It’s not only that diesel is cheaper than petrol, but diesel engines are also about 30 per cent more energy-efficient and durable than petrol engines,” he said.

Diesel fuel costs HK$8.07 a litre, which is 38 per cent cheaper than petrol. Since late 2007, the government has also cut tax on diesel by half to 56 cents a litre.

The EPD has said it would consider offering a tax concession on clean-running diesel cars – similar to that now offered to high-achieving petrol cars for outstanding environmental performance.

The petrol-car concession is a 30 per cent cut in first-registration tax, or up to HK$50,000, if the vehicle emits half the emissions allowed under Euro IV standards and is 40 per cent more fuel-efficient than other cars of the same weight.

Choke Before Starting

Saturday August 21 2004

While other world cities have embraced hybrid cars, Hong Kong’s government has been cautious about these low-emission vehicles, writes Peter Kammerer

The wheels of government efforts to curb Hong Kong’s air pollution turn slowly. More than 18 months after it began assessing environmentally friendly vehicles for its fleet, none have been purchased.

Some so-called hybrid cars are on the way as part of continuing trials – although they will not join the 6,700 vehicles in the government’s garages until the first few months of next year. Even then, tenders which closed recently provide for only five vehicles.

The Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Sarah Liao Sau-tung, traded her government-issue BMW for a petrol-electric Toyota from February to April last year as part of an initial trial. She liked it so much that she bought one for personal use.

The car’s emission performance and fuel efficiency were found ‘comparable to other good performing petrol vehicles in the market’, a statement issued last week by Dr Liao’s department concluded. A tender was opened in May to buy five hybrid cars for a pilot trial to enable an in-depth assessment of performance and suitability. Testing will begin when the cars arrive in the first quarter of next year.

‘Hybrid vehicles are a developing technology with a view to providing more environmentally friendly vehicles,’ the department statement said. ‘We are watching carefully its development.’

Concern about the contribution of vehicles’ petrol emissions to air pollution and global warming and, more recently, rising oil prices, have sparked interest in alternative types of transportation. Electric cars, initially seen as a solution, have not gained popularity because no way has been found to quickly recharge batteries, make them sufficiently light or produce the necessary power to compete with petrol-driven vehicles. Alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel cells, have similarly not taken off with motorists.

In 1997, the world’s biggest car-maker, Toyota, began marketing its first hybrid saloon, combining batteries and petrol. Its latest model, the Prius, has a reported top speed of 169km/h and can travel 100km on 4.3 litres of fuel, about twice as efficient as comparable sedans. Honda also markets models, and Ford this week unveiled in the US its Escape, the world’s first hybrid four-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle. Mercedes-Benz and Audi also have ‘green’ cars.

Despite the rapidly growing popularity of hybrids in Japan and the US, Hong Kong’s government is being cautious. Dr Liao said in January that providing incentives such as tax concessions to stimulate the market for cleaner vehicles in Hong Kong would be inappropriate. The problem, she said, was with supply.

Environmental lobbyists oppose the government’s approach, saying it is out of touch with the reality of Hong Kong’s pollution problems. They say that although the city’s 17,000 taxis have been converted to liquid petroleum gas under a tax-incentives system, other promised measures have yet to be enacted. All said, though, that hybrid cars were not the solution to clearing air pollution. Alone, they would make a tiny, possibly indiscernible, dent on the problem.

The chairman of Clear the Air, Christian Masset, said government departments approached environmental issues passively and shied away from making bold resolutions.

‘There’s a lot of talk, little action and a great deal of inconsistency,’ Mr Masset said.

Greenpeace China spokesman Martin Baker agreed. ‘The government should lead by example,’ he said. ‘It needs to identify the problem of air pollution. The public is very confused.’

Detailed information on the pollutants in Hong Kong’s air is available on the Environmental Protection Department’s website,, but no overall conclusions are drawn as to how polluting the sources are. A senior officer yesterday refused to make an assessment of the contribution of vehicle-exhaust emissions to the clouds of pollution hanging over Hong Kong this week.

Civic Exchange chief executive officer Christine Loh Kung-wai said on Thursday that government procedures meant making decisions took a long time. But when it came to getting hybrid cars, there was no need for stringent testing by departments.

She said she recently drove one in the US, from Denver to Aspen in Colorado, a long, uphill trip, and it performed like any other car.

‘There’s nothing wrong with the car and the government can send someone to test drive it elsewhere,’ Ms Loh said. ‘It’s just like an ordinary car. It can go uphill if they’re worried about that.’

But whatever the suitability of hybrid cars to Hong Kong, even large numbers would do little to improve air quality, environmental experts said. Another Environmental Protection Department senior officer, who declined to be identified, said diesel fuel-powered trucks and buses were far more of a problem to air quality than passenger vehicles.

‘Diesel vehicles do comply to very stringent standards, but there are lots of these vehicles,’ he said. ‘Even though they use ultra-low sulphur diesel, they still emit emissions.’

In urban areas, 90 per cent of roadside pollution was from vehicles, Hong Kong Polytechnic University air quality expert Hung Wing-tat said. ‘High-rise buildings block the dispersion of pollutants,’ he said.

Clear the Air said that 44 per cent of locally produced air pollution comes from vehicle emissions, 30 per cent from electricity generation and 26 per cent from other sources, such as construction sites. It said the bulk of vehicle pollution was caused by older-model diesel-powered delivery and container trucks and buses. As just 3 per cent of the 340,000 registered vehicles are privately owned, the contribution to air pollution from them is considered far less of a problem.

Nonetheless, Mr Masset said the government’s use and encouragement of hybrid cars would help. ‘We favour any measure that improves the emissions, whatever the percentage,’ he said. ‘As well, there is the message that is being sent to the public.’

Greenpeace Germany’s climate-change expert Wolfgang Lohbeck said the group and his country’s environmental protection agency did not believe hybrids were the future of ‘green’ motoring. Questions needed to be answered about battery life, the heavy subsidies Toyota was offering to make its hybrids competitive and the weight of the vehicles.

‘We are not against hybrids, but do not actively promote them as a solution,’ he said.

For now, Hong Kong people do not seem worried about high oil prices and the knock-on effect on the cost of petrol. Fuel-inefficient SUVs are growing in popularity. To July, 1,142 had been sold, compared to 1,320 for all of last year. SUVs also remain popular in the US, which is the reasoning behind Ford’s decision to produce a hybrid model. Hybrid sales in the US have been partly spurred by the US$2,000 tax breaks the government offers to purchasers. California environmentalist Gary Wolff, who owns two Priuses, said increasing numbers of Americans were environmentally aware and wanted more fuel-efficient vehicles.

‘Hybrids are catching on generally,’ Dr Wolff, an environmental engineer and principal economist at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, in Oakland, said. ‘Some people were early adopters and have been waiting and watching and others are trying to make a statement like certain celebrities have done. But there are also a lot of people who are buying the cars because they’re functional, and they are concerned about oil prices.’

Hong Kong ‘green’ car enthusiast Eric Wong Yat-po, the chairman and chief executive officer of Richburg Motors, said that rising petrol prices would also turn Hong Kong motorists towards hybrids. Public awareness would be increased through celebrities and big corporations buying them.

But he said the government was not doing enough to encourage people to turn to environmentally friendly vehicles. ‘I’m quite disappointed with the government policy,’ Mr Wong said. ‘They should encourage vehicle importers and owners to buy more hybrids by offering tax exemptions.’

Whether such methods are adopted and draw Hong Kong people towards less-polluting cars will only be determined in coming months or years.

While hybrid cars will have only a minimal effect in clearing Hong Kong’s pollution problem, they will at least substantially lower petrol consumption for motorists.

The biggest impact of the ever-developing technology could be more far-reaching – the creation of a culture of environmental awareness.

Sulphur Success A Welcome Precedent

Victoria Button, SCMP – Saturday November 23 2002

Environmental campaigners yesterday said evidence that a cut in sulphur in fuel saved lives should spur the government to a greater sense of urgency in attacking air pollution.

Commentators welcomed a groundbreaking University of Hong Kong study showing a 1990 sulphur level cut swiftly saved 600 premature deaths a year. But green groups said more work was urgently needed across a range of areas, including cuts to respirable suspended particulates (RSP) and improved cross-border co-operation. Some suggested the government should include health costs related to pollution from vehicles when comparing the relative cost of building roads and railways.

The chairman of Clear the Air, Lincoln Chan, said the study was encouraging. ‘If it can be done with sulphur, it can be done with RSP. We should think positive. Air pollution is mass murder,’ he said.

Mr Chan urged the government to speed up the conversion of minibuses to LPG, ban idling engines in parked cars, crack down on vehicles using illegal fuel and step up cross-border anti-pollution efforts.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Jennifer Wang also urged action – including a ban on diesel vehicles – to counter respirable suspended particles. Air quality objectives in Hong Kong were less stringent than those of many cities overseas, she said.

The deputy chairman of Legco’s panel on environmental affairs, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier, said officials should count health costs when considering the merits of building roads.

‘Transportation is one area we could improve. The study shows that if we took more stringent measures to improve air quality then the mortality rate could be improved a lot,’ she said. Implementing smoking bans in indoor public venues also would cut health bills.

The chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange, Christine Loh Kung-wai, said it was important to note from the study that the health benefit of cutting pollution was almost immediate. ‘Benefits come quickly. We need to do everything we can to reduce pollution levels because it can help public health,’ she said.

In May, the South China Morning Post revealed that unpublished government tests found levels of fine particles called PM2.5 – a type of respirable suspended particulate – were up to four times higher in Hong Kong than a US safety limit.

American authorities set a limit on fine particles in 1997 after concluding they were more likely than coarse particles to penetrate the lungs, causing premature death and illness. The tests showed pedestrians in Des Voeux Road are exposed to about twice as much PM2.5 as those in London’s busy Marylebone Road.

Drivers Get Their Fill Of Dirtier Diesel

Jennifer Ehrlich, SCMP – Monday June 26 2000

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong-bound trucks and cars are filling up at a Shell petrol station near the border with mainland diesel that cannot be bought legally in the SAR because of air pollution standards.

The station on the Guang-Shen expressway is the last before reaching the Hong Kong border. Under SAR law, filling a tank with mainland diesel, which has a significantly higher sulphur content and is half the price of Hong Kong diesel, is still legal.

‘I go back and forth across the border every day, and I make sure to stop off at this station before I go to Hong Kong,’ said a truck driver while filling his tank. ‘Everybody does it – buses, trucks, you save yourself a lot of money.’ Angela Spaxman, director of lobby group Clear the Air, said: ‘It’s not illegal and that’s the problem. The incentive is there, but it’s so unnecessary.’ Hong Kong Customs law says that if a vehicle is bringing in more than 100 litres of mainland diesel, the driver must declare it and pay tax. Drivers say it is a common practice for everyone to fill up at the border and few declare it. Since they are rarely checked, drivers say they have no plans to stop unless the law changes.

About 30,000 vehicles cross the border every day, and traffic is expected to increase 400 per cent in the next 10 years.

Hong Kong has introduced proposals to shift vehicles to cleaner fuel, but cross-border co-operation on pollution in the Pearl River Delta is still hazy.

Ms Spaxman suggested an immediate solution would be for Hong Kong to model itself on Singapore, where the Government limits the amount of fuel drivers can bring across borders to a fraction of the tank – and tests fuel levels before vehicles enter the city-state.

Shell could not be reached for comment but green groups pinned the blame for the diesel problems on government policy-makers rather than corporations. Efforts to formulate policies are mired in bureaucracy in Hong Kong, they say.

The Environmental Protection Department says it has had talks with its mainland counterparts on pollution, but a department spokeswoman said it could not comment on cross-border traffic issues that fell under Customs’ watch. Customs said its job was enforcement, not environmental issues.

Hong Kong’s 110,000 trucks, light vehicles and buses account for 61 per cent of polluting nitrogen oxide and 67 per cent of respirable suspended particulates. Until laws change on cross-border regulation, drivers are likely to continue to opt for the cheaper, dirtier fuel. ‘I have no problem following the law,’ said one Hong Kong-bound tour bus driver. ‘But so far, I am doing nothing wrong.’