SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- The Port of Savannah on Friday rolled out towering mobile cranes that run mostly on electricity, technology that port officials said would slash diesel fuel consumption by nearly 6 million gallons a year once the entire fleet is upgraded over the next decade.
The 80-foot gantry cranes, which span six truck lanes, load and unload cargo containers from trucks carrying goods to and from the nation's fourth-busiest container port. The manufacturer of the electric cranes, Finnish company Konecranes, said Savannah was the first U.S. seaport to use them.
"What you are seeing here is going to set a new benchmark for electrifying this type of equipment in the U.S.," said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
The cranes cost $1.8 million apiece and the Savannah port is starting out with just four in its total fleet of 116. Foltz said could take 10 years to replace all the port's diesel-powered cranes. Once that's done, port officials said, the switch would not only slash emissions but also save about $10 million a year.
It's not the first move aimed at cutting diesel consumption at the Savannah port, which moved just shy of 3 million cargo containers in 2012. The port installed giant ship-to-shore cranes that run entirely on electricity more than a decade ago, and later switched to electric refrigeration racks that keep cool poultry and other perishable products being shipped in containers.
The port authority says those changes already have reduced diesel fuel use by 5.4 million gallons a year.
The problem with electrifying mobile cranes is that they need move about the port terminal on rubber tires, so they can't stay plugged in. Konecranes ended up producing a model that runs back-and-forth along a 500-foot electrified rail while it's moving cargo. When the cranes need to cruise to another stack of containers, they switch to diesel power for the trip.
Richard Cox, general manager of equipment and facilities engineering for the Georgia Ports Authority, said the new cranes would run on electric power 95 percent of the time.
Konecranes expects it won't be long until other U.S. ports start using the company's electric mobile cranes as well.
Tuomas Saastamoinen, the company's sales and marketing director, said seaports in China, Honk Kong and Turkey are already using the cranes and other American ports are talking with the company about upgrading their equipment. He said he expects even more interest in the U.S. now that the electric cranes are being used in Savannah.
"Basically it tells the other facilities that it can be done, it's proven and it works," Saastamoinen said.