| Written by Constance Stickler

Even though sustainable behaviour is more than just reducing emissions, reducing or preventing greenhouse gases is usually the first thing that comes to mind when the keyword "sustainability" is mentioned. And rightly so, because if we fail to stop global warming, all other efforts to increase sustainability will be in vain.

Often, one's potential to contribute is underestimated. But on the one hand, many pennies make a dollar; on the other hand, it is in many cases not just single pennies that can be made, but many hard dollars. Let's examine what automation can do for the environment AND your budget.

Sustainable Port Automation

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What characterises successful container handling at the terminal? To complete all work with as little effort and resources as possible. This means, for example, few moves, short distances and low fuel consumption. Let's now take a look at these three approaches:


Becoming a sustainable port because of fewer moves

However, these fewer moves do not stand alone; they have many advantages for both the environment and the operation.

Increased Efficiency

Reducing the moves required to handle containers is directly related to increased efficiency. Every single additional move increases the time and resources required for the operation.

Reduced Costs

Fewer moves mean less costs because of less work, equipment and energy consumption. On the one hand, operating costs for labour, fuel, maintenance and equipment can be saved, contributing to the terminal's financial sustainability. On the other hand, the funds released can be used to invest in more sustainability, which in turn can directly and indirectly ensure lower costs or higher sales.

Reduced Energy Consumption

Energy-saving measures have been propagated for years. The environmental protection aspect alone was often not enough to persuade consumers to save. In recent years, however, the rising cost of energy has become an argument that practically no one can ignore.

Lower Emissions

Efficient ports tend to produce fewer emissions due to optimised processes. This leads to lower air and water pollution in and around the port area and, thus, better environmental sustainability.

Less Equipment Wear and Tear

Heavy machines such as cranes, reach stackers, and rubber tyre gantry cranes (RTGs) are necessary to lift heavy containers. The more moves they perform, the faster they wear out. Fewer moves reduce maintenance costs and extend the life of the devices. Additionally, the risk of accidents and equipment failure is reduced, resulting in smoother operations.

Improved Traffic Management

Advanced traffic management technologies, such as intelligent planning systems and real-time automated monitoring, help minimise congestion both in the port and in surrounding areas. This helps to keep traffic flowing and thus minimises the ecological footprint.

Optimised use of space

Even at large ports, storage and container handling space is not unlimited. Fewer moves allow for more efficient use of available space and maximise throughput capacity. This often saves you from expensive expansions or investments in additional infrastructure. This optimisation of space utilisation increases the terminal's operational flexibility and resilience to fluctuations in demand.

Improved Workforce Planning

Those who plan efficiently can make optimal use of their employees. This also means that you don't have to allow for a buffer of working hours that would be needed for errors such as lost containers.

Higher Customer Satisfaction

Terminal customers such as shipping companies and cargo owners value reliability. Fewer moves shorten transit times and reduce the risk of delays. Satisfied customers will continue to rely on reliable partners in the future and even recommend them to others, the best thing that can happen to a business.

Improved Safety

Container handling is a backbreaking job and involves different risks for people and goods. Those who manage to reduce the number of moves remove complexity from the processes and thus make it easier to comply with security standards and protocols. Fewer moves mean fewer opportunities for human error or technical malfunction. And this in turn increases overall safety for workers, ships and cargo.

Environmental Benefits

Less energy consumed means, directly or indirectly, fewer emissions for practically all types of drive systems used. The reduced carbon footprint and emissions of other greenhouse gases align with growing societal and regulatory pressure to adopt environmentally friendly practices in port operations.

So, how do we achieve as few moves as possible? The essential requirement is, of course, planning in the Terminal Operating System (TOS). In order to implement this planning as smoothly as possible in reality, the TOS must know precisely where each container is located at all times (see also: Terminal Tracker Module "Container Inventory").



This is where Position Detecting Systems (learn more about PDS automation) come into play. With the help of transponders installed on Container Handling Equipment (CHE) and readers strategically placed on the site, all lift and drop events are recorded, as are all handovers from one CHE to another.

Knowing your containers' whereabouts is necessary for everyday operations if everything goes according to plan. But of course, it is also a significant advantage in other situations: delays in collection, for example, may require rescheduling and replanning of location, which can be carried out even more efficiently if all containers are actually in their place and there are no unpleasant surprises.

And here, we have to address a problem that no one really likes to talk about: lost containers. Despite all care and efforts, countless containers are lost in container yards worldwide. Of course, not all of them are lost forever, but finding them can cause a lot of headaches and work. And additional moves, the exact thing we want to avoid (see also: Container Inventory and Container Handover solutions).

The question arises: do you have staff available to search for lost containers? A simple calculation provides an overview of the savings potential:

Time spent (to fix data / find container) x how many containers are typically lost/misplaced annually = time savings



And don't forget that looking for the container is not the only effort involved. You may also need to notify carriers and cargo owners and keep them updated. And if the container is (hopefully) found, you still have to correct the information in the system. Modern Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) can eliminate all these costs, enabling almost 100% of container yard accuracy.

Another function that we call Container Control can be used as a "safety net". It ensures that containers can only be placed where they should be according to the TOS. If dropping is attempted at another location, the twist locks remain locked.

In addition to the number of moves, other parameters can be tweaked to increase efficiency. One of them is the time it takes to move:


A Promising Ingredient for Sustainable Ports: Short Routes

How should a task be assigned within the team? An important factor is time. Proximity wins in our case.

In concrete terms, it can look like this at the terminal: A CHE is supposed to load containers onto waiting trucks. But where to start? Automated solutions provide perfect support. Because the system knows which truck is closest to the CHE, i.e. which truck is next, it shows the job in question at the top of the CHE driver's job list.

Both drivers can concentrate fully on the handover; the efficiency-optimised sequence is specified and updated by the system. Based on real-time monitoring, changes and movements of the trucks can be responded to in a matter of seconds. Real-time tracking usage at its best.

Finally, we want to take a look at something that is not necessarily always obvious at first glance as a factor for a sustainable port. Maintenance can be an annoying topic, but it's worth keeping it on your radar for several reasons. And here, as well, you should rely on automated solutions:


The Link Between Tyre Condition and Emissions

In addition to the other advantages that continuous, automated measurement of tyre pressure and temperature offers, such as predictive maintenance, these two parameters are indeed relevant factors for a vehicle's fuel consumption and, therefore, for the generation of greenhouse gases. Reducing them is one of the most important goals of a sustainable port.

Tyre pressure

Too little pressure in the tyres creates more rolling resistance, which means the engine has to work harder to move the vehicle. This increased resistance leads to higher fuel consumption. In turn, excessive tyre pressure can affect traction and stability, and this also has a negative impact on fuel efficiency. Adhering to the recommended tyre pressure makes much sense and helps to optimise fuel consumption.

Tyre temperature

The temperature of tyres can indirectly affect the amount of fuel consumed. Overheated tyres can also cause increased rolling resistance, similar to tyres that are underinflated. As described above, this leads to increased fuel consumption. When tyres overheat, wear increases, which means they need to be changed more often.

To make these statements a little more clear, here are a few facts: According to the truck manufacturer Volvo, a tyre pressure that is just one bar too low can increase fuel consumption by two per cent and shorten the tyre's service life by 20 per cent. Tyre manufacturer Bridgestone suspects that 35% of trucks have precisely this low-pressure level. And this makes it clear why monitoring tyre pressure is worthwhile: tyres naturally lose up to 0.3 bar per month.

We all know that fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases. But what about other propulsion types also used in container ports?

Although electric vehicles do not use fuel in the traditional sense, they do require energy from their battery to operate. It also applies to them that the electric motor has to work harder when the rolling resistance is higher, which means the battery is discharged more quickly.

And it is no different for vehicles powered by natural gas. Although this fuel is considered a cleaner-burning fuel compared to diesel, methane is produced during its production, distribution and use.

Learn more about our Tyre Management solution, which gives you valuable insight into the condition of your vehicle's tyres on your computer screen.



Greenhouse Gases at Container Terminals

Carbon dioxide (CO2): CO2 is produced when fossil fuels are burned in vehicles, container handling equipment and machinery, and on-site electricity generation.

Methane (CH4): Vehicles running on natural gas produce methane. The greenhouse gas can also leak from storage tanks.

Nitrous oxide (N2O): This gas is also produced when fossil fuels are burned.

Fluorocarbons (HFC) and perfluorocarbons (PFC): These synthetic greenhouse gases are used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and can be used in refrigerated containers.

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6): Another synthetic greenhouse gas used in electrical transmission and distribution systems. It occurs at container ports if they have substations or other high-voltage systems.

Comparison Between Carbon Dioxide and Methane

Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is considered to be the more potent greenhouse gas per molecule. Although the latter has a shorter lifespan (it only remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years on average, while carbon dioxide lasts hundreds to thousands of years), if you compare the effects over a period of 100 years, methane has a global warming potential (GWP), which is about 28 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. If you compare the effect within 20 years, the potential is even over 70 times higher.

So far, the focus has been primarily on reducing carbon dioxide because it is responsible for long-term climate change. However, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of reducing methane in recent years, which can lead to significant, short-term slowing of global warming. This makes it an essential target for climate protection. Even if there are no targets yet like there are for carbon dioxide, we should do everything we can to ensure that as little human-caused methane as possible enters the atmosphere.



Many efficiency improvement efforts by container terminals can lead directly and indirectly to a sustainable port. Reducing moves, saving time and traffic, and automatically monitoring equipment are essential components of a strategy for efficiency and environmental compatibility. Often, these building blocks have the same results: cost savings, less energy consumption, lower emissions, increased safety and consumer satisfaction. State-of-the-art solutions with real-time tracking and automated processes provide valuable support to terminal staff in their efforts to achieve greater sustainability.

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