Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Seeks Decarbonization


Michigan’s largest inland port, the Port of Detroit is located on the Detroit River in Wayne County as well as the navigable portions of the Rouge River. The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority oversees the port, which is made up of multiple marine terminals for handling general, liquid, and bulk cargo as well as passengers. Each year, the Port Authority oversees more than eight million tons of cargo at 29 private and public sector terminal facilities in the Port of Detroit, including international and domestic commodities, which are shipped in and out of the port. The port is the third-largest steel-handling port in the nation. At the Port Authority’s own terminal, steel, aluminum, and project cargoes are handled for the support of the manufacturing community in Southeast Michigan. Now, the port is undergoing a decarbonization project which aims to reduce its environmental impact and improve air quality. The decarbonization project will be undertaken in partnership with Tunley Engineering and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) and will involve a range of initiatives, including the implementation of renewable energy sources, the electrification of port equipment, and the use of cleaner fuels while ensuring residents and businesses in the area are involved and have input. Said Raquel Garcia, executive director of SDEV, “We are on board to – among other things – make sure the community understands what’s happening in their own backyard and that they have access to people leading the project.” SBN Detroit spoke with the executive director of the port, Mark Schrupp, about the project and its impact on tourism, area businesses, and more. Q: The Port of Detroit is going green with the goal of net zero by 2040. Can you provide some background on how you arrived here and how you are taking this on? A: Discussions originated in early 2022 with the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers,  looking at ways to help decarbonize the maritime industry. Our two overarching goals are to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of the ports on the West Coast and Europe have been doing good work for several years. The Midwest is a little behind but starting to accelerate. We reached out to state Sen. Stephanie Chang, and she has been a great supporter. She assisted in helping us to secure $1 million in state funding to undertake a study on where we are today and develop a plan to decarbonize. The big challenge is that the Port Authority does not have the authority to compel the private terminals, which are responsible for 95% of the cargo, to participate. We have been identifying incentives and working to persuade these terminals to develop a single plan, measure the greenhouse gas emissions, and develop strategies together. To start, we needed outside expertise. We put together a scope of work in December and put out an RFP and ended up partnering with Tunley Engineering, which has been eager to jump in and help. We have also been working heavily with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) who – among other things – is helping us to connect to the community to ensure we understand what their interests are. You can’t take on just a decarbonization plan… in the port region where people work and live it’s also about air quality, vibrations, sound and particulate matter, and more. So, we are looking at these things and working to address them through best practices. Since April, we’ve been engaging with terminals to get a baseline report of greenhouse gas emissions for each terminal. Once finished, we will publish an interactive map for people to see the current carbon footprint. We are specifically looking at the carbon footprint of moving cargo in and off the water – not the industrial practices of the businesses. We are also looking at the cruise ships that we service at our downtown dock, and the impacts and the footprint of governmental entities that participate in the port, such as the Detroit Police Harbor Master, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and more. This is a good time to be taking all of this on. There is a lot of federal and state funding and tax incentives that help bring down the initial cost of switching fuel sources. We’ll be applying for grants to help the terminals move forward. Q: What other entities are you working with to take on this project? A: We are engaging with many organizations and local sustainability offices to help and support our efforts. We have been working with The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to get data and take advantage of any grant opportunities to tackle air quality and particulate emissions. We have met with the EPA Region 5 office in Chicago to stay close in terms of funding opportunities and ways they can support our efforts. The International Maritime Organization has a 2050 plan in place and is setting standards around the fuel in the ships that move in international waterways. They are looking at cleaner fuel alternatives as well. The Port has a fueling station run by Waterfront Petroleum, and they are working toward a biodiesel fuel that can be used without having to change engines. Maritime infrastructure is very expensive and lasts a long time, so making changes needs to be planned carefully. Changing fuel to a lower carbon footprint, like biodiesel is a good first step because it doesn’t require any changes to ship engines. Zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen and ammonia will take more planning and investment. We can’t do it all at once but should do what we can as we work in the right direction. Q: Do you think this a unique undertaking for a port authority? A: Ports on the coasts have been working on this for some time. California has led the way and those ports are ahead of us. The Port of Cleveland has done work to reduce its carbon footprint. So, they are a little ahead of us, but