Solving the Panama Canal Congestion Crisis: Magnetic Levitation for Sustainable Trade

The Panama Canal, an engineering marvel connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, is facing a growing challenge that threatens to disrupt global trade and impact economies worldwide. Increasing congestion at the canal has raised concerns about delays, rising costs, and potential bottlenecks that could have far-reaching consequences.

The Canal has played a pivotal role in facilitating maritime trade between the eastern and western hemispheres. Its strategic location and efficient operations have made it a preferred choice for shipping companies, reducing the time and costs associated with navigating around South America. However, in recent years, the canal has been grappling with a surge in traffic that has stretched its capacity to the limit. Waiting time to transit the Canal is sometimes as long as ten days.

Global Trade is Growing, but the Canal is at Max Capacity

One of the primary reasons for the increased congestion is the rapid growth of global trade. As economies expand and consumer demands rise, shipping companies have responded by deploying larger vessels to meet the growing cargo volumes. The Panama Canal has tried to keep pace with increased vessel size by constructing a new set of locks to accommodate larger vessels. It can now accommodate ships of up to 16,000 TEU, but the larger the vessel, the slower the transit through the canal. The Canal also operates at max capacity regarding the number of ships that can pass. While more ships want to transit the Canal, they can’t, and there is no way to increase the capacity further. 

Climate Change is Disrupting Global Shipping

Another problem the Canal is facing is climate change. The water levels in some of the lakes that are part of the canal system are falling, causing the Panama Canal Authority to lower the draft restrictions on the largest ships crossing the canal. Neo-Panamax vessels can now have a maximum draft of 47.5 feet instead of 50 feet, which can limit the number of TEUs they can carry.

The Time to Act is Now: Solving Both Climate Change and Congestion

Zergratran will create an alternative shipping route for containers, so a larger percentage of global trade can take a shorter, faster, and more sustainable route. The new route will run parallel to the Panama Canal in Northern Colombia. Two new automated ports will be created in the Atlantic and the Pacific, and an 80-mile tunnel will connect them. Magnetic levitation will be used to ship containers between both ports. Containers will be transferred through that tunnel using high-speed Maglev skids. This solution will enable us to unload a container on the Atlantic side and load it again on the Pacific side within an hour. Because Maglev transportation is highly energy-efficient, we can ship these containers with zero emissions. 

This solution will not only increase the efficiency of global supply chains but also bring down the shipping industry’s carbon footprint in more ways than one. First, it will reduce the number of miles ships need to sail. Second, our automated ports will make it easier to redistribute containers from larger to smaller ships and vice versa. Third, our shipping solution is powered by 100% renewable energy.

Find out more about it here.

Photo by Michael D. Camphin

About the author:

Martijn Graat

Martijn Graat is Zergratran’s Head of Content. He writes about trends and innovations in supply chain and logistics, and anything related to Zergratran