Marine is Green

With the Great Lakes being fresh water, a properly maintained hull can last almost indefinitely, so unlike the salt water trades, a 30- or 40-year old vessel is still in its prime. This new engine being installed on a laker will make the vessel as fuel efficient as one built from the keel up.

Waterborne commerce is the greenest form of transportation. It’s simple physics. Because there’s less friction when moving through water, less power is required. As a result, Great Lakes freighters use less fuel and produce fewer emissions in moving a ton of cargo than trains and trucks.

A 2009 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms maritime’s greenness. The Corps determined that a Great Lakes freighter sails 607 miles on one gallon of fuel per ton of cargo carried. A locomotive travels just 202 miles on a gallon-per-ton basis and a truck a mere 59 miles using the same measure.

Marine is also superior in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. A cargo of 1,000 tons transported by a laker produces 90 percent less CO2 than the same amount moved by truck and 70 percent less than a thousand-ton load moved by a train.

The environmental benefit of those facts becomes even more apparent when they are upscaled to actual moves. For example, it would take seven unit trains, each with 100 cars, to equal one cargo carried by a 1,000-foot-long laker. Transfer that cargo to trucks and 2,800 would be needed to deliver what one ship does each trip. Now the fuel savings and reductions in emissions have skyrocketed.

The Lakes fresh water environment makes possible another green side to Great Lakes shipping. Corrosion is slight on the Lakes, so a well-maintained hull can last indefinitely. As a result, ships are constantly modernized, thus saving the environment the raw materials that would be consumed by new construction (not to mention saving customers the costs related to new builds).

The steamship CASON J. CALLAWAY is a perfect example of the longevity and reinvestment made possible by the Lakes freshwater environment. When launched in 1952, the ship was 629 feet long and had a rated capacity of 22,064 tons per trip. In 1974 the vessel was lengthened by 120 feet, which increased its carrying capacity to 28,336 tons per trip. Then in 1982, the vessel was converted to a self-unloader, which allowed it to carry more cargos each season. In the deep sea trades, these increases in efficiency would have required at least one, if not two new builds. New engines are another way lakers reduce their carbon footprint. The past few winters have seen several vessels outfitted with new powerplants that use even less fuel and further minimize emissions.

Upon entering service in 1952 (left) the CASON J. CALLAWAY was 629 feet long. By the time of America's 200th birthday in 1976 (center), the vessel stretched 767 feet. Today (right) the vessel is not just longer than when launched, it is a self-unloader, which allows it to make more trips each season. Such reinvestment in vessels is common for LCA members and made possible by the Lakes' freshwater environment. Photos (left, center) by Roger LeLievre and Rod Burdick.

Other steps to enhance the industry’s environmental performance include use of environmentally acceptable lubricants and water-lubricated bearings.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates Lake Carriers’ Association’s commitment to the environment than the effort to find a solution to the world-wide problem of ballast water transport of non-indigenous species. Even though lakers never leave the system and so have never introduced a non-indigenous species, LCA has been a pioneer in developing Best Management Practices (BMPs) to minimize the potential that lakers’ ballast might spread an exotic introduced by an oceangoing vessel. As far back as 1993 LCA implemented a plan to address the ruffe in western Lake Superior, the first ballast water management effort in North America. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared the plan the “cutting edge of technology.”

Then came groundbreaking research on filtration of ballast water. More BMPs followed and then a plan specific to Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia.

Today LCA members have undertaken initiatives of their own to further advance knowledge of effective means to address introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species via the ballast water on oceangoing vessels.

Graphic Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District.