Maritime Sustainability Initiatives

What is the Maritime Environmental Technical Assistance Initiative (META)?Two engineers working on machine

This is a collaborative effort among Federal agencies, academia, industry, and public stakeholders to address critical marine transportation environmental issues such as ballast water treatment, port and vessel air emissions, and alternative fuel technologies. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) is working toward addressing  the environmental issues of the marine transportation system by researching, developing and demonstrating innovative technologies for practical applications to balance freight, passenger, and environmental concerns with sustainable solutions.

How does META support sustainability?

META addresses critical marine transportation environmental issues through collaborative efforts and an interdisciplinary approach, targeting both alternative fuel for marine use and standardizing  control of invasive species by:

Advancing Alternative Fuel for Marine Use: Stimulating technology advances for sustainability and reducing our vessels’ dependence on petroleum.

  • Lead efforts for Maritime use of natural gas. META supports research to address maritime environmental issues and overall feasibility of using natural gas as marine propulsion fuel.  Feasibility studies were recently completed for the Great Lakes region and Ohio River as well as issue-based research focusing on natural gas infrastructure, bunkering, and total fuel cycle analysis.   A study of methane slip/leakage during transportation, bunkering, and vessel handling operations as well as identification of optimal, multimodal natural gas transportation corridors was complete through META.
  • Test new generation “drop in fuels” that can replace diesel fuel to power ships from feedstock such as algae and sugar beets with less engine wear-and-tear drawbacks than traditional feedstock. Two tests of MARAD’s school ship in Michigan revealed reduction in sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon compared to ultra-low sulfur fuels and lower sound measurements as well and META is currently working with Scripps School of Oceanography to run additional tests.
  • Investigate marine applications of fuel cell technology. This technology may effectively power port equipment and refrigerated containers, serve as shore power to ships while in port, vessel axillary power and eventually vessel propulsion power. An initial investigation of the use of fuel cells to power refrigerated containers is underway in collaboration with DOE, West Coast and Hawaii ports as well as vessel operators.  An additional project looking at auxiliary ship power is planned for FY2014-16.

Standardizing Cost Effective Control of Invasive Species: Helping to realize a real solution to preventing the introduction of harmful invasive species to the Nation’s aquatic ecosystems.

  • Facilitate practical and effective ballast water treatment technology and provide data for informed decisions for the appropriate discharge standard for ballast water.
  • Examine methods for reducing underwater hull fouling; particularly with in-water hull cleaning, and niche areas where cleaning is difficult.

Additional Resources:
Environmental Technology Assistance Initiative


What is the Marine Highway System?

In an effort to lessen congestion and promote expanded use of our navigable waterways from the transport of freight on land, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 initiated the American Marine Highway System for DOT to take the lead in waterborne freight transportation. This system comprises 29,000 miles of inland waterways such as rivers, channels, and bays, the Great Lakes, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway System, as well as the coastal waterways.

Map of America's Marine Highway Routes 

How does it Support Sustainability?

  • A marine vessel carrying cargo at sea.Strategizes shipping routes in place of crowded highways
  • Diversifies freight transport.
  • Reduces petroleum usage.
  • Provides system redundancy during times of disaster.
  • Relieves traffic congestion.
  • Cuts greenhouse gas emission
  • Encourages alternative fuels technologies such as liquefied natural gas.
  • Improves public safety and security in both travel and transport of hazardous materials.


M-295 Marine Highway Corridor
Cross-Sound Marine Highway Ferry Service
Bridgeport & New London, Connecticut, to Port Jefferson & Orient Point, New York

  •  Eliminates a 166-mile highway drive through congested portions of Long Island, New York City and Connecticut for 1.1 million riders and 430,000 vehicle trips per year.
  • Capacity increase to accommodate the equivalent of 3,000 additional large trucks per year, saving nearly 500,000 additional highway miles.
  • Service improves livability through the reduction of car and truck traffic in highly congested urban centers.
  • Emissions reductions, energy savings and land based transportation infrastructure maintenance savings are additional benefits.

M-64 Marine Highway Connector
Richmond, Virginia to Norfolk, Virginia – the 64 Express

  • The M-64 Express is on the James River and began in 2008 with first- year projections of transporting 4,000 containers.  The service exceeded initial estimates by more than 50 percent, and moved more than 6,000 containers in the first year.
  • This service offers enhanced public benefits because it utilizes low emission engines and ultra-low sulfur fuel.
  • In 2012, the service moved over 8k truck loads worth of containers resulting in emissions benefits over 6.34 tons of CO2.

The M-146 Marine Highway Connector
Houston, Texas to Galveston, Texas

  • A container-on-barge service on this 25 mile waterway spanning the Houston Ship channel between the Port of Houston and the Cedar Bayou reduces regional road congestion by transporting 2,000 containers per month (up to 144 truck trips per day).
  • Removes 2,500 tons of greenhouse gases as well as nearly 30 tons of NOx from the air each year.

Additional Resources:

MARAD AMH Fact Sheet

America's Marine Highway Program

What is the Ship Disposal Program?

The Maritime Administration is responsible for the disposal of ships from the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) that are no longer useful for defense or aid missions. Aging ships pose an environmental burden, so it is MARAD’s mission to expedite the disposal of these vessels. This program’s successes reduce pollution and other adverse effects coming from transportation facilities.

How does the Ship Disposal Program Support sustainability?

Domestic Recycling

  • Rewards Material Preservation– Through ship sales offers and direct fee-for-service solicitation.  The program awards ship recycling contracts to seven domestic ship recyclers. An obsolete vessel will serve better to recycle materials for new infrastructure, and preserves resources.

Artificial Reefing

  • Promotes Biodiversity: Integrates the Built and Natural Environment – The use of obsolete vessels as offshore reefs for marine life conservation provides ecological niches in areas of generally featureless bottom, and provides structure for food, assemblages of fish, and hard surfaces for algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters to attach. Using ships for artificial reefing also serves to control beach erosion.

Ship Donations

  • Preserves Historic Integrity –Vessel reutilization including historic restoration of ships as memorials and museums, and the operational restoration of ships to support non-profit humanitarian missions, while preserving our national heritage for future generations.

Additional Resources:
Ship Disposal Program

Updated: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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