A new war on air pollution in the twin seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is about to be launched.
An armada of pelican-shaped barges with 100-foot-tall towers and booms could soon be navigating the ports, connecting their sleeves of ductwork to smokestacks of berthed container ships, and vacuuming out an alphabet soup of poisonous gases through a huge scrubber.
The first 165-foot-long barge is a prototype and is nearly done being constructed.
“We continue to raise the bar with our cleanup technologies so that we can stay competitive against the Panama Canal and other ports in Prince Rupert (Canada) and Mexico. It takes 10 minutes to connect and disconnect,” said Ruben Garcia, founder and president of Carson-based Advanced Cleanup Technologies Inc., and the technology’s developer.
In recent weeks, welders, electricians, crane operators and others have been busy at Berth C-58 in Long Beach, building the first of ACTI’s eventual fleet of barges that will be loaded with hulking scrubbers once designed to clean coal-fired plants.
The process of how the scrubbers work is simple. They use ductwork – similar to a heating ventilation system in a house – that runs up the neck of the tower, to the beak-like boom where it then twists and turns to reach out over the container ship to the smokestack, Garcia explained.
The ductwork has an endpiece that locks into any sized smokestack and captures superhot gases and sooty particulate matter. The scrubber technology is designed to replace – or enhance – cold-ironing shore power.
On Jan. 1, state smog regulators began requiring major container ships, refrigerated cargo and cruise ships to plug in to shore power while at berth to reduce air pollution.
However, the shore power regulations only apply to about 100 of the Port of Long Beach’s 300 vessel calls each month.
Shore power uses big electrical cords unfurled from a ship and plugged into underground power vaults on a dock.
The scrubber-carrying barges could provide an alternative to shore power, allowing ships to run their engines to produce the power they need for lighting, communications, pumps and refrigeration without plugging in. The scrubber technology cleans up the air as well as if shore power were used, Garcia said.
“Two-thirds of the vessels that fall under no regulations (in California), and that call on the port every month, could use this system,” said Rich Cameron, the Port of Long Beach’s managing director of environmental affairs and planning. “This is not just a Port of Long Beach technology. This has never been done before and could be used elsewhere.”
Garcia will test his first barge in a few weeks on container ships owned by Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Another shipping line, Hapag-Lloyd, wants to test the barge at the Port of L.A.’s TraPac terminal.
If all goes well, ACTI, whose parent Advanced Energy Group plans to move its headquarters to Long Beach this summer, will begin ramping up, according to Garcia.
He has partnered with San Diego-based Pacific Tugboat Service to operate dozens of yet-to-be-built barges with scrubbers – at $8 million a piece.
Garcia has plans over the next three to five years of building dozens of these barges for the ports of Long Beach and and Los Angeles, then San Diego and Oakland and San Francisco. He sees more getting built at all ports on the West Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast.
But before this happens, ACTI is working with the Port of Long Beach and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a smog control agency in L.A., Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, to demonstrate that the technology really works.
The Port of Long Beach has been working with ACTI since 2006 in demonstrating the technology. An earlier, wharf-mounted version was often called “sock on a stack” because of the large bonnet that was placed over the smokestacks to capture emissions. The new system is mounted on a barge and uses a direct connection to a vessel’s exhaust outlets.
The demonstration project, technically known as the Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System, or AMECS, received a $2.06 million contract from the port.
Garcia’s company has been around since 1992, though ACTI nearly went under as a result of cleanup work it performed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Over the years, ACTI has been paid millions to clean up everything from oil spills in the Santa Clarita River following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and to thousands of gallons of spilled diesel fuel from the 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth, which took 25 lives.
At its peak, before Katrina, it had several hundred employees, was generating $48 million in annual revenue and had branch offices from one end of the state to the other.
After Katrina, ACTI brought 15 trucks of gear to Louisiana to help.
“It was a war zone. You could still see power lines and transformers popping several days after the storm,” Garcia said.
FEMA took until 2010 to reimburse ACTI for its Katrina work, forcing the company to draw on its entire credit lines, and take out all of its cash, just to stay afloat.
“It gutted us out,” he said.
ACTI has since shuttered many offices, employs 40 and generates $5 million in annual sales.
Its big hope to regain its stature may be the millions it invested over the past decade in the scrubber technology and other advanced projects to help clean up air in the maritime and railroad industries, Garcia said.
“The idea from day one has been to put this on a barge,” Garcia said. “You come as you are, and we take care of the rest.”