In the growing fight against air pollution in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, one of the world's largest shipping lines announced Monday that it will test an innovative fuel system that could significantly reduce harmful emissions from ship engines.
APL -- bucking the adage that one should never mix water and gas -- is experimenting with a fuel emulsification process that injects water into marine fuel oil, causing it to burn more thoroughly.
Company officials believe the technology has the potential to cut emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key component of smog, by up to 20% and soot by 40% to 60%.
If the tests are successful, APL executives say, they will consider installing the systems in their fleet of more than 100 container ships, 23 of which call at California ports. The final results could be available by the middle of next year.
"As leaders in this industry, we have a responsibility to address the impact we have on the environment. We are now working on many fronts to lessen that impact," said John Bowe, president of APL's operations in North, Central and South America.
APL, which operates a 300-acre terminal in the Port of Los Angeles, is the eighth-largest container ship line in the world.
Over the years, the global fleet of cargo vessels has emerged as a leading source of sulfur oxides, particulates and nitrogen oxides. Many ships emit as much exhaust per day as 12,000 cars.
The pollution has been linked to global warming, respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. In the Los Angeles area, studies show that diesel exhaust from trucks, locomotives, heavy equipment and ships causes cancer and is responsible for 70% of pollution-related health problems and hundreds of deaths every year.
The fuel tests will be conducted in February aboard the APL Singapore, an 863-foot container ship that regularly travels to Asia from Los Angeles and Oakland.
Though fuel emulsification systems have been used successfully on small diesels since the early 1900s, this would be the first application of such a system to the main engine of a cargo ship.
The technology creates a mixture that is 20% water and 80% fuel. As combustion occurs in the engine, the water turns to steam, which uses energy and lowers the combustion temperature. This change reduces nitrogen oxide in the exhaust.
Soot or particulate matter is lowered because the vaporization of water produces micro-explosions that break up the fuel, causing it to burn more thoroughly.
Participating in the experiment are UC Riverside, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the air quality management districts of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. They have contributed about $1.3 million to the project.
APL, like other shipping lines, is facing increased pressure from local, national and international regulatory agencies to reduce air pollution from its operations.
Over the last several years, port officials, state government and environmental groups have been adopting plans to improve air quality throughout the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor complex, which handles more than 40% of the nation's imports and exports.
APL is the second major shipping line in the last year to initiate air quality efforts for cargo ships. In May, Maersk Inc., which operates the busiest container terminal in Los Angeles, announced plans to use low-sulfur fuel in all of its 37 cargo ships that serve California ports.