Cargo ships will get seawater air purifiers

Cleaning up ship emissions is an air pollution priority for ports in the United States. (Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher)

Engineers at California State University, Long Beach, are developing a new air purifier for oceangoing ships that uses seawater to filter diesel exhaust from the ship’s engines. The technology has been previously tested on land but will now be installed on a container ship, the Horizon Hawk, which travels between California and Asia. “Seawater exhaust scrubbers show great long-term promise for reducing ship emissions,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geradine Knatz. The saltwater air purifiers use seawater to filter the air and could eventually enable seagoing vessels to use less expensive fuels with lower emissions while operating close to the coast.

The development of air purifiers for ships is part of a broader effort by government agencies, port operators, private companies and community groups to clean up port-related air pollution in areas such as Southern California. The effort has also led to the development of a new generation of less-polluting diesel locomotives that can be used around ports to transport goods to and from the immediate port areas.

For example, Pacific Harbor Line, which provides rail transportation services at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif., has started retrofitting 16 of its older locomotives with new “Tier 3-plus” engines. The new, low-emission engines cut diesel particulate exhaust by 85 percent and nitrogen oxide by 67 percent. Even community advocacy groups are giving Pacific Harbor Line high marks for its new engines. “It’s going to help clean up the air at the twin ports,” David Petit of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the Los Angeles Times. “They are the largest sources of deadly particulate matter in the region, and anything that makes that situation better is a win for public health,” Pettit said.

The efforts to clean up ship emissions and railyard operations complement remediation efforts focusing on schools in areas heavily impacted by port air pollution. Working with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, IQAir develop and has installed high-performance classroom air purifiers and air cleaning systems in hundreds of classrooms near the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports. The air purifiers and HVAC filtration systems reduce particulate air pollution in classrooms by as much as 90 percent.

Diesel engines in and around ports are a major source of particulate pollution that affects the health of workers and residents in nearby communities. In fact, air pollution from ports exceeds pollution from cars, power plants and refineries, according to the NDRC. ” In the Los Angeles area, oceangoing ships, harbor tugs, and commercial boats such as passenger ferries emit many times more smog-forming pollutants than all power plants in the Southern California region combined,” the NRDC reports on its website. In addition to Los Angeles and Long Beach, other major U.S. ports include New York and New Jersey, Virginia, Savannah, Ga., Houston and Seattle.

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