The Port of Montreal, with its partners, is exploring ways to integrate alternative fuels and adopt electric technologies to create a green shipping corridor between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador
Montreal Port Authority is collaborating with two of its cargo and shipping partners, QSL and Oceannex, to create a “green shipping corridor” between the Port of Montreal and the Port of St. John’s, in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Marine shipping represents about three per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions — an amount that, if left unchecked, will rise.
“One of the primary visions we have is to be a leader in decarbonization. We want to bring our stakeholders all together to walk the talk and be part of this journey with us,” says Guillaume Brossard, vice-president of development, marketing and international relations at the Port of Montreal, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
A green shipping corridor is a designated maritime route between two or more ports designed to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. This is done through the adoption of zero-emission fuels, technologies and energy-efficient infrastructure.
The route from Quebec via the Gulf of St. Lawrence up to N.L. is serviced weekly by vessels operated by Oceanex, an intermodal transportation solutions provider. Oceanex vessels carry close to 500,000 tonnes of cargo (containerized and non-containerized) per year.
Meanwhile, Quebec-based QSL is the operator of Bickerdike terminal where Oceanex vessels dock in Montreal. QSL moves the cargo from the carrier vessels using cranes, forklifts, loaders and other equipment to the last-mile distribution of the cargo.
“At QSL, we want to become a North American sustainability leader within our industry. [The] announcement alongside our longtime partners Oceanex and the Port of Montreal is a new step to formalize that vision,” said Robert Bellisle, president and CEO at QSL in a press release.
Exploring alternative fuels
Through the collaboration, the trio is looking to implement and use alternative zero or low-emitting fuels for marine vessels and direct electrification technologies.
In a press statement, Matthew Hynes, Oceanex executive vice-president, said that Oceanex is “dedicat[ed] to support greener practices in the maritime sector, reaffirming Oceanex’s role as a responsible leader in the transportation industry.”
Oceanex also brings prior experience to the table.
In August 2022, Oceanex entered into a partnership with German shipbuilder Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft (FSG) to design a container vessel and explore the use of alternative fuels such as ammonia, methanol, synthetic and biofuels, as well as hydrogen in Atlantic Canada.
No new developments on the project have been announced since. But Oceanex’s experience will help to determine what fuel type will be adopted at the Port of Montreal.
“There’s not a clear path on which fuel will be the fuel of tomorrow that will replace natural gas,” says Brossard. “If it’s methanol, we’ll be happy to have methanol, if it’s hydrogen or ammonia, same thing.”
Adding electrical shore power
Brossard notes the Port is looking to take advantage of Quebec’s green hydroelectricity to lower emissions at the Bickerdike terminal.
One solution they are interested in is adding shore power. This allows vessels to plug into a power source on the dock, eliminating burning fuel while transloading cargo.
The Port of Montreal already has experience building shore power infrastructure for its cruise ships and wintering ships last year. Brossard says he sees it as the “lowest hanging fruit” to substantially reduce GHG emissions.
A recent analysis done by the Port shows the adoption of alternative fuels and electrical technologies could lower the carbon footprint of freight transport between the Port of Montreal and the Port of St. John’s by 27,000 tonnes of diesel and 87,000 tonnes of GHG emissions per year.
“We’re just at the start of our collaboration. We’re going to sit down and discuss the projects that we want to put forward,” says Brossard.
“But we all have the same objective to make it happen as soon as possible.”
Learning from experiences and identifying challenges
This current initiative is not the first time the Port of Montreal has established a partnership to decarbonize marine shipping.
The Port has a longstanding agreement with the Port of Antwerp for a green corridor between Europe and North America. The route will “facilitate the trade of green fuels and the supply of renewable fuels and clean technologies to vessels.”
Brossard says this experience has helped the Port learn about the inherent complexities of building connections between international ports and the challenges of dealing with multiple vessel carriers.
By contrast, the corridor between Montreal and St. John’s presents a dedicated route with a single carrier and operator.
“Here with Oceanex and QSL…I really think that we have all the good ingredients to be able to overcome the challenges that we might see in a more complex ecosystem with a lot more stakeholders,” says Brossard.
However, with this project, Brossard does foresee a financial challenge in implementing shore power or retrofitting vessels to alternative fuels.
For example, adding a shore power connection for cruise ships at the Alexandra Pier and a four-connection shore power system for wintering ships at the Port of Montreal last year cost $11 million. Funding came from federal and provincial government and the Port.
“It’s expensive. There’s not often a good payback that is interesting for private companies,” explains Brossard.
Canada’s commitments to green shipping corridors
To address the funding challenge, last month the federal government announced the launch of a new Green Shipping Corridor Program. It has an initial investment of $165.4 million.
Under the program, the government is accepting applications for two funding streams. The Clean Ports stream aims to fund the adoption of clean technology and infrastructure at ports and terminals. The Clean Vessel Demonstration stream provides funding for studying, testing and piloting clean fuel propulsion systems for shipping vessels.
“The Green Shipping Corridor Program is a key pillar of the Government of Canada’s activities and investments to support transportation decarbonization and to accelerate the transition to zero and near-zero greenhouse gas emission fuels and technologies in the marine sector,” says the government in the release announcing the program.
The Port of Montreal is planning to apply for funding through the program. Brossard says the government’s initiative is “something we need to have as an industry to be able to enhance and make possible investment into green initiatives.”
Canada, along with 26 other countries, is also a signatory of the Clydebank Declaration since 2021. The agreement pledges to support the creation of zero-emission green maritime routes between two or more ports.
Other potential green shipping corridors in Canada include routes from Halifax to Hamburg and the Pacific Northwest to Alaska.
“As a port authority, offering the lowest emission options to our carriers and our industry, will make a difference and will enhance [our] competitiveness,” says Brossard. “That’s what we see coming and that’s the reason why we’re investing in these projects as we are right now.”