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Port of Detroit floats greenhouse gas reduction project

Situated along the west bank of the Detroit and Rouge rivers, the largest seaport in Michigan handles 10 million or more tons of bulk cargo a year and supports 16,000 jobs and $1.04 billion in economic activity. It aims to do as much a year from now – but with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The ultimate goal is carbon neutrality by 2040.

 Ship on the Detroit River near the Port of Detroit.  

Ship on the Detroit River near the Port of Detroit. 


A yearlong Port of Detroit decarbonization project kicked off last month with a community open house at Detroit’s Kemeny Recreation Center. The event brought together local residents and city, county, and state officials, including EGLE Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist Lisa Herron.

Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Executive Director Mark Schrupp said the Port of Tomorrow Project will produce a plan to decarbonize maritime operations and reduce air pollution at the port’s 27 marine terminals handling cargo and passengers along the rivers. The transformation will include implementing renewable energy sources, electrifying port equipment, and using low-carbon fuels such as hydrogen and biofuels. A roadmap will track progress and ensure success, port officials said.

Partnering with the Port Authority on the project is the nonprofit Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) and carbon-reduction specialist Tunley Engineering.

The plan will also set goals for reducing dust, particles, odors, and other harmful emissions from port activity. Detroit residents face elevated air pollution levels that worsen asthma, heart disease, and other health conditions. A 2021 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services report found asthma 46% more prevalent among Detroit adults than in Michigan as a whole. The asthma rate for Detroit children was 14.6% compared with 8.4% statewide.

The project also is expected to save money and attract new business and investment in and around the port. Planners say decarbonization will bring new “green economy” career opportunities including developing, installing, and maintaining renewable energy systems; electric vehicle infrastructure; and other sustainable technologies.

Decarbonization also will contribute to Michigan’s efforts to mitigate climate change and build a prosperous, equitable, and healthy carbon-neutral economy by 2050 as expressed in the MI Healthy Climate Plan.

SDEV Executive Director Raquel Garcia told news publication Transport Topics that community involvement is fundamental to the project’s success.

“This decarbonization plan will give us an assessment of where we are and a strong map on how to get to cleaner air in Detroit,” she said. “Not only does decarbonization improve the health of residents, but it can save these companies money, and we are out to have those conversations with them.”

Garcia said SDEV is working with Michigan Clean Cities, Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, and the Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit to lead community engagement.

The project’s first months will focus on building relationships with terminal operators and companies to share data and make the case for decarbonization. To help guide reduction efforts, Tunley Engineering plans to assess emissions at no cost to terminal operators.

On a related note, the purchase of port cargo handling equipment is one potential use of grant awards available from EGLE’s Fuel Transformation Program, funded through the Volkswagen State Mitigation Trust. Applications are open through Nov. 1 for up to $5 million allocated for port equipment, airport ground support equipment, and forklifts.