Pollution at Port of Oakland reduced with new green technology designed to suck up emissions

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Tuesday, April 9, 2024
Pollution at Port of Oakland reduced with new green technology
Pollution at Port of Oakland is reduced with a new green technology designed to suck up emissions by California-based company STAX.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Towering hundreds of feet over the Port of Oakland, it might look like the Bay Area's biggest vacuum cleaner. And in a sense, it is.

A giant barge, run by a startup called STAX, is designed to capture the polluting diesel exhaust from container ships and other large vessels that run their engines while berthed at the port.

"And that emissions goes through the ducting here, all the way through the entire process and comes down here, and it gets collected and goes into our processing unit," said CEO Mike Walker, who gave us a dockside tour of the technology, which he says can filter out 99% of particulate matter and other diesel pollutants, reducing huge volumes down to a disposable volume.

"They're big vessels. And I would say that, you know, it varies between the vessel size, but it's thousands of cars a day's worth of emissions for sure," Walker adds.

MORE: Port of Oakland wants to make room for bigger ships: Here's a look at expansion plan

And now, new regulations from the California Air Resources Board will require specific oceangoing vessels to reduce their idling emissions roughly 80%, cutting pollution that's become an environmental justice issue for many surrounding neighborhoods, like West Oakland.

"And, you know, you think you see that black smoke. And automatically you're like, 'Oh, I know that's bad.' But you wouldn't necessarily think that's actually bad for people that are miles and miles, like 20 miles-plus away," said Heather Arias, transportation and toxins chief for the Air Resources Board.

To meet those stricter requirements, the Port has already expanded the most popular option, shore power, allowing ships to keep their electricity up and running without using their engines. But depending on how the vessel was built, it can be far trickier than just plugging in an extension cord.

"Because the shore power infrastructure is at a fixed location, and the plug on the ship itself is also on a fixed location, the two have to be in alignment in order for the vessel to plug in," said Colleen Liang, who directs environmental planning at the Port. "All vessels are manufactured, not by the same company. And so, the location of their plug could be at any different position on the vessel itself."

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She says the port is examining a number of innovative solutions, including portable shore power systems. But a percentage of older vessels aren't outfitted for the typical shore power hookups. And Walker believes his company's emissions capture technology will help fill in those gaps.

"It really has to be a hybrid approach between the great job we've done with shore power and connecting to that. And now there needs to be another approach to round out that total field. And that's where this comes in. This is a real opportunity to drive significant impact and there's not that many times that you get a chance to do that," he said.

And it would potentially set a multi-billion dollar shipping industry on course for a cleaner and more environmentally friendly future.

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