SEATTLE – The Port of Seattle is teaming up with other ports and cruise lines to try to form a “green corridor” where the huge ships that carry passengers in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Alaska would operate possibly without fossil fuels.

The announcement comes at a time when the cruise ship industry’s carbon footprint is under increasing scrutiny, and the companies that operate these ships are investing in new engine technologies and taking other steps to reduce carbon footprint. pollution.

The corridor, if launched, would require coordinated long-term planning to determine what fuels are likely to be used to power these ships, and what shore support would be needed at ports along the way in a growing cruise ship industry. expanding into Alaska. which now includes nearly 300 departures over a six-month cruise season.

“At Carnival Corporation, we have ambitious goals…to achieve net zero greenhouse gases (by 2050), Jan Swartz, president of Holland American Group, a subsidiary of Carnival, said in a recent online interview. with journalists.”…We cannot achieve our goals alone, and we need close collaboration between government and business. »

Others who have signed a “first mover pledge” include the City of Juneau, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean Group and Cruise Lines International Association.

In 2021, 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, signed a declaration to support at least six green corridors for maritime traffic by 2025. They are expected to support the development of new maritime fuels during the push to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. , which is the date by which scientists say these greenhouse gas reductions must be accomplished to limit the impacts of climate change.

“We are bringing together people, resources and technological advances … so that commercially viable greenhouse gas-free ships will be sailing in the near future,” said Seattle Port Commissioner Fred Felleman.

A cruise ship’s carbon emissions can vary widely. One estimate, developed by Bryan Comer of the International Council on Clean Transportation, estimated earlier this month that a cruise ship passenger on a five-night cruise covering approximately 1,200 miles on a line of Energy-efficient cruising would have a carbon footprint about double that of a traveler who flew and stayed in a hotel. This was based on an estimate of the ship using heavy fuel oil, according to Comer.

Cruise lines are already turning to new fuels.

Carnival Cruise Line switched from marine diesel to liquefied natural gas capable of powering four of its ships at sea and in port. This change can reduce carbon emissions by 20% and also reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution, according to a company statement. But liquefied natural gas is a fossil fuel, and producing and transporting natural gas can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

To achieve net-zero emissions, Carnival and other cruise lines are exploring technologies that include batteries and biofuels. Another line of research concerns fuel cells, which could run on hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources or from methanol derived from renewable resources such as wood.

“I think right now we’re considering everything that’s on the table,” Swartz said during a press briefing this week on the Green Corridor.

In 2021, Carnival announced the testing of a fuel cell on passenger ships. Also last year, Royal Caribbean Groups announced the development of a new class of ships with hybrid technology that would allow ships to draw power from hydrogen fuel cells as well as liquefied natural gas and batteries.

Developing an onshore network to produce, store and sell green hydrogen is a major challenge.

In Washington State, the Port of Seattle is working with Seattle City Light and the Pacific Northwest Energy Laboratory to study the risks and potential of large-scale hydrogen storage.

In March of last year, the Douglas County Public Utility District launched a $20 million pilot project to harness hydroelectricity, during times of low market demand, to produce hydrogen. It was originally expected to be operational by the end of the year. But there have been supply chain disruptions and delays in engineering and design work. Bids also came in at double engineers’ estimates. The current target is for production to begin by May 2023, according to Meaghan Vibbert, public information manager for the public service.

Elsewhere in the West, Air Liquide, a French company, is preparing later this month to open a facility that will convert landfill methane into liquid hydrogen.

To move forward with the Cruise Ship Green Corridor, participants plan to meet over the next month. “This will kick off work on a charter for the Green Corridor and then develop a work plan,” said Steve Metruck, executive director of the Port of Seattle.