By Paul "Chip" Jaenichen

Every year, car buyers and auto enthusiasts await the release of Detroit's new models. It's an exciting moment to see what some of America's most innovative design and engineering teams can produce. But unlike cars, new models of U.S.-made shipping vessels don't roll out every year.

Paul "Chip" Jaenichen is the administrator of the Maritime Administration. C

From idea to service, new ships are usually 20 years in the making. So you can imagine how excited the maritime community was to see what rolled off the NASSCO shipyard line in San Diego this past weekend: the world's first liquid natural gas (LNG)-powered container ship.

The launch of this next generation of U.S.-made vessels, commissioned by TOTE Maritime, was financed in part by a $324.6 million Title XI loan guarantee from the Maritime Administration (Marad). The new 764-foot Isla Bella includes a number of innovative technological advances. The key feature, of course, is that by burning LNG instead of diesel, it will significantly reduce harmful emissions.

The Isla Bella will be joined soon by a companion ship and is expected to enter service between the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.

But TOTE is not alone. Nor is Marad putting all of our support for greater sustainability in one basket. This past February, for example, we witnessed the launch of the first of six planned LNG-powered offshore support vessels built for Harvey Gulf International Marine.

From coast to coast, Marad is working diligently with stakeholders to promote adoption of advanced maritime technologies and best practices to reduce costs, minimize the maritime industry’s environmental footprint, and improve long-term sustainability in the maritime industry.

As you can see, a major focus area for our efforts has been integrating natural gas for marine propulsion. Natural gas, which is in abundant supply in the U.S., tends to cost less than traditional petroleum products, and it enables vessels to more affordably meet emissions goals.

But again, we're not stopping there. Together with the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and Sandia National Laboratories, we’re currently exploring cost savings and emissions reductions using hydrogen fuel cells to provide electrical power for ships and refrigerated containers at berths as well as underway. And only a few months ago, we entered a cooperative agreement with AEP River Operations to modify the 8,000-hp, 180' towboat Christopher Parsonage into a fuel-efficient hybrid that conserves fuel and reduces harmful vessel emissions. We’re even exploring the use of biofuels, as well as wind and solar power for vessels.

Since President Obama took office, domestic energy-related emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years, and Marad is helping the maritime industry capitalize on innovative opportunities to continue this progress. We are not taking a back seat to anyone when it comes to the maritime community's environmental responsibilities.

As a nation reliant on waterborne freight transportation, America is moving steadily forward on renewable energy and clean-fuel options while increasing shipping efficiencies that benefit American consumers. And Marad is in the wheelhouse, helping steer a steady course.

A collection of stories from guest authors.