Eye on the storm
Envirosuite’s Chaim Kolominskas explains how ports can benefit from a new approach to environmental management
As Europe’s population grows, the demand for shipping is escalating. More traffic translates into busier ports that in turn face higher pressures on sustainability and environmental responsibilities.
In an era where Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental protection is top of the agenda of stock markets, governments and regulators, ports need to take more proactive steps to improve their environmental management. This means finding a balance between facilities operating as efficiently as possible while at the same time having the smallest impact on the surrounding area.
The challenge is particularly acute for ports handling large volumes of materials such as coal, iron ore or metal concentrate. Often stored in large stockpiles, the materials are at the mercy of prevailing weather conditions.
When strong winds occur, large plumes of dust or toxic material can sometimes be released into the atmosphere. Depending on the wind direction, these potential pollutants can have a detrimental impact on the local vicinity and residents.
Although weather conditions can affect impacts by several orders of magnitude, ports are often limited by the quality of information that they receive. Operators either follow static management plans that do not take into account changing weather conditions, or, if they do, data is based on coarse, region-wide forecasts from public agencies that do not represent local conditions accurately. Outcomes are inconsistent with control being applied when it isn’t needed, or not being applied when it is.
A proactive approach
Rather than relying on weather forecasts that cover large geographic areas to guide port management decisions, operators need to take a more granular approach.
Sophisticated environmental management tools can interpret and communicate complex data sets in a way that can be used by decision makers, even those without environmental expertise.
For example, high-resolution, site-specific weather forecasts, when interpreted and displayed correctly, can accurately predict high-risk periods and communicate the activities required to react and prevent environmental incidents. For example, knowing that extreme winds are forecast, dangerous or high emission activities (such as material handling or loading of stockpiles) can be brought forward or delayed by only a few hours, or higher level control can be applied, but only when it is needed.
The benefits of applying such monitoring and predictive technology are significant. For example, steps could be taken to douse a stockpile of coal or iron ore in water ahead of predicted winds. Misting or fogging cannons, which consume significant amounts of electricity, water and/or dust suppressant, can be optimised to only operate during the hours of need.
Port authorities can also monitor emissions from vessels, so localised and real-time analysis and communication of wind intensity and direction can determine if they will or are already affecting nearby areas, and therefore only switch fuel when required.
Better community relations
Technology can also allow port operators to better analyse and respond to any complaints made by members of the public. For example, if there are reports of dust contamination in homes, models can be run to determine firstly whether the business was indeed the source of the issue, and if so, exactly where and when it originated from.
This granularity of information ensures that action is only taken when required, saving money and time dispatching crews or applying control when it is not required as well as responding rapidly when investigation is needed.
By embracing technologies for rapid response and predictive management of environmental issues managers and tenants of ports can manage impacts efficiently, while meeting the ever-increasing expectations of the community for good environmental stewardship.
Chaim Kolominskas is European general manager at Envirosuite, an Australia-based company focused on the digital transformation of environmental management around the world.
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