How just-in-time arrivals can reduce shipping emissions

CO2 reduction

“Dangerous climate change needs to be avoided by limiting global warming to well below 2° C”

So it states in the first-ever legally binding global climate change agreement – the Paris Agreement – that was signed by close to 190 parties. This is a great ambition, but it is not an easy one. It will require companies to change the way they work and individuals to change the way they live. Everybody needs to contribute to making it happen, including the shipping industry. 

Accounting for 2.89% of all global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, the shipping sector has a significant role to play in meeting the climate goals. 

Many different things can be done to establish emission reductions, such as: 

  1. Changing engines on vessels
  2. Changing hull designs
  3. Changing vessel sizes
  4. Or even reduce the volumes of goods transported by sea

In recent years, the shipping industry has focused on how to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption through ship design and research into alternative fuels. However, on the port side, too little attention has been paid to the contributions that just-in-time (JIT) arrivals can make in these areas.  We have seen the majority of investment go into physical infrastructure, rather than be allocated to the optimization of operations. 

Whereas advances in design, fuel innovations, and improvements to physical infrastructure may take years or perhaps even decades to put in place and activate, JIT exists right now and can be implemented immediately. Moreover, as our digital collaboration platform (Synchroniser) can confidently demonstrate, the benefits of JIT can be seen and measured within a very short space of time. 

Just-in-time vessel arrivals

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the concept, JIT involves intelligently and progressively moderating the speed a ship is traveling along its route so that its arrival in port takes place at the optimal time when tugs, pilots, and berth are all readily available. 

This leads to more efficient port operations, more timely onward transportation of goods, and reductions in both greenhouse gas emissions and fuel costs. It helps eliminate the ongoing problem of ships spending 5 – 10% of their time (and burning large amounts of fuel) waiting to get into port (Source: Just-in-time arrival Guide: barriers and potential solutions, IMO).

Real-time information exchange

Just-in-time arrival changes the way vessels approach ports. Currently, vessels sail for an established Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) that the terminal has provided to them. Once the vessel ETA has been communicated to the vessel, not much further communication takes place about its arrival time. However, calling a port with a vessel is a very dynamic process. Things change all the time. The weather, tide, traffic, availability of tug boats and pilots, all these elements can lead to changes of plans on the vessel or terminal side. And if plans change, it is key to communicate the new plans swiftly. 

By making sure that the ETA gets updated and communicated regularly between the terminal and vessel, the vessel can adjust its sailing speed to the latest ETA and thereby avoid waiting time at the port. If a vessel has to wait, it has to either maneuver or anchor, which generates unnecessarily high emissions in approaching the port too fast and unnecessary emissions whilst waiting to enter the port. These emissions can be avoided just by improving communication. 

Just think about when you travel by airplane, what would happen if the arrival slot changes to 30 minutes later? Would the pilot change its speed, or would he continue at the same speed the whole journey, having to circle above the airport for 30 minutes before he can start his landing?

Just-in-time arrival is the smart thing to do for the shipping industry, making an impact without any major investments. It is also strongly supported by the IMO. All we need to do to start just-in-time arrival is share planning and actual information to align operations in the port.   

Related read: How can data sharing solutions help Port authorities in reducing idle time? 

A digital collaboration platform to facilitate vessel’s JIT arrivals 

PortXchange Synchronizer specializes in facilitating JIT. We offer a centralized platform for sharing real-time data to more efficiently coordinate the various actors in the maritime logistics chain during a port call.

Our platform allows ships to better communicate with ports, particularly during the crucial final 48 hours of a voyage, and adjust speeds to ensure timely arrival — consequently, often dramatically cutting fuel consumption and carbon emissions. 

In December 2020, the results were announced of an exercise quantifying the benefits of JIT, utilizing PortXchange Synchronizer. The month-long exercise, jointly conducted by representatives of IMO, the Port of Rotterdam, and ship companies Maersk and MSC, demonstrated that where speed was optimized in the final 12 hours of the journey, ships consumed 9% less fuel than under normal, non-JIT conditions. 

“The potential savings in shipping emissions and bunker costs are enormous,” Emile Hoogsteden, Port of Rotterdam director for containers, breakbulk, and logistics told the press upon release of the study’s results. “What this shows is having standardization, sharing data, and digital tools like Synchronizer really helps.”

Benefits of JIT

The benefits of JIT extend far beyond the financial. Currently releasing some 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, shipping is responsible for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that by reducing speeds across the global fleet by 20% — a potential byproduct of JIT — we may be able to reduce carbon footprint by up to 34% (Source: Regulating speed: a short-term measure to reduce maritime GHG emissions, CE Delft). 

The JIT arrival graph displayed below shows the actual (blue) and recommended (green) vessel speed, advised by PortXchange Synchronizer. 

Click image to enlarge

Figure 1. The ship has reduced its speed to arrive at the port just-in-time

By looking at the difference in emissions between the vessel that has optimized its speed and the vessel that has not, we can gauge the potential savings in terms of CO2 and fuel.

Click image to enlarge

Figure 2. This visual illustrates that the vessel Adventurer hasn’t optimized its speed, and as a result, had a significant untapped saving potential

This visual illustrates that the vessel Adventurer hasn’t optimized its speed, and as a result, had a significant untapped saving potential

Want to see PortXchange Synchronizer in action? Check out this 5-minute Demo that illustrates how PortXchange helps to facilitate JIT.

The impact of just-in-time arrivals on shipping emissions

Results may be varying per port, carrier, vessel size, but on average we observe around 7 -25 tonnes of CO2 saved per port call for parties that work with PortXchange.

If the world is to meet the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement, by 2050, total annual greenhouse gas emissions must fall to a level that is 60% of the 1990 benchmark. To achieve this ambitious but vital goal, emissions from transport and logistics need to be drastically diminished, reduced to numbers 85 to 95% lower than their 1990 levels within the next three decades. There’s a lot of work to do, and very little time in which to do it. 

While better ship design and cleaner, more efficient alternative fuel sources must be sought, we cannot afford to ignore the immediate potential for JIT to help the shipping sector play its part in reducing emissions and alleviating climate change — today.

Related read: How to facilitate just-in-time arrivals: barriers and solutions

It sounds simple, what is holding us back?

There are a few obstacles holding the shipping industry back from avoiding these unnecessary emissions:

  • Contracts may not allow for just-in-time arrivals or even incentivize early arrivals. 
  • Transparency of data is something new in the industry. Sharing planning and actual operation information may lead to commercial and/or operational discussions.
  • To do this, the different parties working together in a port call need to collaborate in digitalizing their operations. This requires collaboration in a way that never happened before in the history of shipping, including (

technical) communication standards.

Related read: Just-in-time sailing in a crisis: why it’s more critical than ever

Who should drive the shipping industry towards a digital transformation? 

Terminals, port authorities, service providers, shipping lines, agents, and everyone involved in the port call process need to be part of the process to drive just-in-time arrival. Any missing link will lead to missing key information, which results in a lower impact. In other words: just-in-time arrival needs to be driven by the industry. 

The problem is: like with anything that has shared responsibility, you run the risk nobody takes ownership. PortXchange Synchronizer is available for all ports and all trades, and the implementation is driven by – what we call – a coalition of the willing in every port, consisting of a group of organizations involved in the port call process. Shipping lines like to drive this change, as just-in-time arrival, in addition to lower emissions, leads to lower bunker consumption and better communication resulting in safer port calls. Also, Port Authorities often take a leading role in this considering this part of their digital infrastructure leads to emission reduction and safer operation. The implementation of a digital platform enabling just-in-time arrival goes hand in hand with a change in process to make sure the right impact is being made. 

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About the author

Robbert Engels
Director of Product

Robbert focuses on providing value to the PortXchange users. He is keen on identifying new opportunities and sharing best practices from one port to another, enabling port communities worldwide to optimize their logistic challenges.

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