FINDING more efficient ways to utilize empty shipping containers to limit their movement around the globe will significantly lower CO2 and other green-house gas emissions, the head of a major intermodal firm said.
Jesús García López, the chief executive officer of Cadiz, Spain-based Connectainer Intermodal Solutions, said that about 21 percent of all containers moved per year are empty, and that the percentage stays fairly constant, so that as the total number of containers shipped each year increases, so does the number of empties.
The problem, López said, is that “If we calculate the CO2 emissions of a 40-foot empty unit repositioned from Algeciras, Spain to Shanghai, China, the result is around 328 kg per container in only one leg.” In addition, normal movement within a port generates about 6 kg of CO2 per TEU (20-foot equivalent unit), according to López.
“We are talking about millions of units that are doing this or similar movements on an annual basis, so it is easy to understand how important it could be to find a solution that reduces the volume of empty containers moved,” he added.
Shipping companies are not unaware that moving empty containers represents a significant cost, and terminals can also be affected, López said. In 2014, for example, both Manila’s main container terminals suffered serious overcrowding of empty containers as the traffic congestion caused by the City of Manila’s short-lived ‘truck ban’ made shippers unwilling to use the limited time they could access the port to move empty containers.
“Shipping companies, who have experienced this situation for many years, have adopted appropriate measures to minimize the impact this situation causes them by optimizing the way of repositioning empty equipment,” to areas where more containers are needed at the least possible cost, he explained.
“But shipping is not ruled by a mathematical algorithm,” López said. “Sometimes the planned operation has to be adjusted due to external factors, or sometimes even due to an unexpected market change, thereby bidding farewell to cost optimization.”
López suggested that simply working to reduce movements rather than optimizing costs would lead to more flexible repositioning management, as well as making a serious impact on reducing greenhouse gases. Even a small reduction in container movements would make a difference, given the huge number of containers being moved each year—in 2014, more than 560 million.
With better optimization of empty repositioning, which can be managed through improved real-time tracking systems being developed, both costs and emissions could be significantly lowered.
“If main shipping actors could reduce empty movements by 30 percent, there would be a saving of 145.8 million kg of CO2 per year,” López said, citing his own company’s research.