Port operations in the UK only make up a small proportion of total air quality emissions, particularly in urban locations, according to research from consultancy Arup.
The study found that air quality around ports is dominated by road traffic emissions, predominantly diesel cars and HGVs (including but not confined to port related traffic).
Michael Bull, global environmental consulting leader at Arup, said: “Anything that you can do to take HGVs or cars off the roads would be a good thing for air quality,” citing the reduced emissions from vehicles themselves plus the reduction in congestion.
The study emphasised the government’s role in improving air quality at ports, suggesting it should restore and boost incentives for a modal shift of freight from road transport to rail, along with acting to support a speedier transition to the electrification of port operations.
The growing share of Euro 6 standard diesel vehicles is forecast to drive notable future air quality improvements in these areas.
Emissions from vessels in the ports usually have a relatively low and very localised impact, noted Arup.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG), which commissioned the study, said: “Today’s report is clear that to make a major difference in urban areas around ports the improvement requires more than the port itself acting.
“All stakeholders – industry and government at different levels – need to play their parts to deliver meaningful impact. We collectively need to find solutions that achieve the joint goals of better air quality and ensuring that the UK gets the best out of its global gateways.”
In order to collectively improve air quality in a cost-effective way the research recommended action to reduce congestion in freight flows such as vehicle booking systems.
Other methods include a range of operational improvement and engagement measures and over time but beginning already, shifting to greater electrification of port operations.
In the middle and longer terms, the research indicated that the government should support the provision of infrastructure for much greater electricity demand at ports, such as shore power, while also working on international agreements for shipping standards.
Bull added: “The difficulty [with shore side power for ports] is if you want to provide power for a number of ships and if they are operating at maybe 20MW, that’s an awful lot of power to bring into a port. Most ports don’t have the grid infrastructure available to do that now and would require some pretty complex upgrading.”
Furthermore, one port in the study estimated that only 20% of vessels that visit it have the capability to use shore side power, he noted.
The research examined data for three ports representing a range of characteristics to examine trends and key drivers in air quality in the areas around the ports, as well as activity on the ports themselves.
The government’s draft air quality strategy included a potential requirement for major ports to produce robust air quality strategies.
In a statement, the UKMPG, which represents global gateway ports for 75% of the UK’s seaborne trade, said that it supports the principle of air quality strategies “but to be truly effective they must also be viable, both in terms of what’s achievable and the time frame to achieve it”.