Hamburg Port: When smart and green go hand in hand

Electronic data transfers, improved ship tracking and automated crane systems have already transformed the Port of Hamburg into a highly efficient operation. In the next step, digitalization and intelligent technologies are intended to make the port “smart.”

“In global terms, Hamburg is definitely one of the frontrunners,” says Michele Acciaro, an Associate Professor of Maritime Logistics and Director of the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) at Kühne Logistics University (KLU) in the HafenCity Hamburg. But that being said: “We need far more technologies in the port that employ artificial intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing, Smart Contracts, Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT).” This could facilitate the automation of terminal processes and maneuvers in the port. One example: bunkering fuel or water. Here, automation could help avoid human error, save time and boost efficiency.

A port's ecological footprint will be a key aspect

But efficiency isn’t everything when it comes to global competition. In the future, a given port’s ecological footprint will also be a key aspect, as Acciaro predicts. And this is where decentralized Distributed Ledger technologies like blockchain could come into play, making it theoretically possible to track an individual product, the CO2 consumption involved in each stage of its production, and its transport route. Such transparent supply chains would allow consumers to select more sustainable products, and would give sustainably operating ports a competitive edge in the process. But for today, this is still wishful thinking.

“An expansion of renewable energy use in port operations could also benefit from digitalization,” says Acciaro. One conceivable option in this regard: equipping the port with a virtual power plant to interlink decentralized power-generation sites. In turn, this would require an intelligent power grid or “smart grid,” which combines energy production, storage and consumption, using technologies like sensors, Big Data and AI to do so, and which can intelligently compensate for output fluctuations stemming from renewable energies.

Europes "GreEn Deal" sets the course

Consequently, the challenge for the Port of Hamburg is to not only be “smart” but also “green.” With the European Union’s “Green Deal,” the general course set for the future is already clear: Europe is meant to be climate-neutral by 2050. Hamburg has the potential to lead the way. “The city has a manageable size, and is one of the richest cities in one of the world’s richest countries,” Acciaro explains. But making this a reality will require more thinking outside the box, more systematic analysis, and more interdisciplinary collaboration. When this makes the port CO2-neutral, the environment is cleaner, and Hamburg’s residents feel more content about where they live, then smart and green go hand in hand.

Making the port a laboratory

As Acciaro stresses: “Many pioneering technologies are still in the experimental phase. Nevertheless, we need to start experimenting with them, using the port as our laboratory.” Other ports have shown how it’s done: since 2011 the Port of Los Angeles has been working toward the ambitious goal of operating certain sections virtually emission-free. And in 2019 Singapore developed an autonomous tug system (IntelliTug project) as part of a long-term partnership with the tech provider Wärtsilä. Also worthy of mention: Antwerp’s “Capital of Things” initiative. Based on the “Internet of Things,” the first smart port projects were launched in 2018, and brought together the port authorities, the city, university, and a prominent research center. According to Acciaro, Antwerp’s approach represents a recipe for success. “All the major ports have formed strong partnerships. Hamburg surely stands to profit even more from its business and research excellence.”

About the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL)

The Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) fosters exchanges between the international research community and companies in the shipping sector. The center’s goal is to promote the development of Hamburg as an international maritime knowledge hub. Focusing on maritime logistics, it is part of Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg.

(This text was first published in Port of Hamburg Magazine #1/2020: Download and browsable version.)