Ports of L.A., Long Beach Join Bid to Be Hydrogen Fuel Hub

Twin Ports of San Pedro Bay Advocating for Grant to Test Hydrogen Effectiveness
A fully electric terminal tractor sits on a trailer
A fully electric terminal tractor sits on a trailer along with a Nissan Leaf and a flat bed truck that runs on CNG at the civic center in Long Beach. (Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG via TNS)

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The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in California want to be part of a statewide clean hydrogen hub, through which they would get more than half a billion dollars in federal funding to test out the benefits of using the fuel to power trucking and terminal equipment.

The proposal is the latest effort by the twin seaports as they continue pushing to expand their options for zero-emission technology.

The ports are part of a California bid to receive hundreds of millions of dollars via federal grants that are available because of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021. The act, commonly known as the bipartisan infrastructure law, directed the U.S. Department of Energy to provide $10 billion to develop four clean hydrogen hubs nationwide.

“We hope to be one of the four,” Gene Seroka, the executive director for the Port of Los Angeles, said on March 16. “We are pretty big players (but) we’ve got to be prepared to write our own checks.”

The ports would each have to provide a 50% match of whatever money they receive if California wins one of the four grants.

Heather Tomley, the Port of Long Beach’s managing director of planning and environmental affairs, also touted the importance of being part of the state application.

“The Port of Long Beach sees hydrogen fuel cell technologies as having an important role in our transition to zero-emissions operations,” Tomley said in an emailed statement.


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“To establish a robust hydrogen ecosystem,” she added, “we need green hydrogen fuel available at a lower cost, a plentiful network of fueling stations and green hydrogen fuel supply, technically feasible, commercially available and competitively priced fuel cell equipment, and workforce development and training to support hydrogen and fuel cell technology.”

The ports of L.A. and Long Beach have set goals to have entirely zero-emission terminal equipment by 2030 and a 100% zero-emission truck fleet by 2035. To that end, the ports have pressed forward on acquiring battery-operated equipment — but that technology has its limits.

Battery-operated vehicles are heavier than diesel ones, have shorter drive ranges and require expensive charging infrastructure.

Hydrogen technology, though, comes with some benefits, according to a presentation that Mike Galvin, POLA’s director of commercial and waterfront real estate, gave to the Los Angeles harbor commission March 16. Those benefits include the ability to support longhaul freight movements, up to 400 miles, for trucks and longer-duty cargo handling equipment; offering a similar driver experience compared to diesel for all equipment types when it comes to fueling time and range; and vehicle weight is comparable to current options.

The L.A. port has been working for “many months trying to focus on our role in facilitating new zero-emissions” options, Galvin said — describing POLA as “technology agnostic.”

The technology in the field is still evolving, he said, creating some uncertainty and a scramble to determine what will make the most sense in different settings.

It appears that hydrogen could be optimum for the ports’ longhaul uses, Seroka said, while electric could suffice for shorter-distance needs within the twin San Pedro Bay complex.

The LBCT container terminal at the Port of Long Beach

The LBCT container terminal at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif. (Lauren Justice/Bloomberg News)

The hub projects are expected to showcase an entire hydrogen supply chain, including production, storage and distribution as a way forward on decarbonization in various sectors.

With specific terminals signing on to take part, the ports’ portion of the California hub could include on-road trucks, fueling stations, yard tractors, top handler equipment and tugboats.

One of the goals, Galvin told commissioners, is to help develop “market confidence” in hydrogen technology.

The 2030 and 2035 zero-emission deadlines, meanwhile, are fast approaching, he said.

There is also a benchmark to meet for greenhouse gas emissions — that they be reduced to 40% and 80% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

The Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems, a public-private consortium, will be the lead applicant for the state’s project to the Department of Energy. The proposal from the L.A. and Long Beach ports will be included in that application.

The ports’ proposal is only a small portion of the overall statewide submission. But it would operate with a budget of $600 million, with a 50% match required jointly from both ports. If awarded, the first stage would deploy hydrogen equipment, including yard equipment and a fueling station. It would be scaled up in a Stage 2 rollout that could include deploying heavy duty trucks.

The state’s application is due by April 7. A 12- to-18-month award-planning phase will follow.

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Members of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners expressed support for the plans on March 16, with Commissioner Ed Renwick calling them “fantastic.”

Overall, Seroka said, the way forward to zero emissions will be expensive.

“Be prepared,” he said. “We’re going to be cutting some very big checks in order to participate or we’ll be asked to do so.”

The developing nature of competing technologies adds to the expense and difficult decision-making, Seroka said.

“We’ve got seven years to get to that zero-emissions cargo handling goal,” he added, “and I’m starting to get really concerned.”

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