The world’s first autonomous electric cargo ship takes to sea
A forward-looking vessel designed as the world’s first fully electric autonomous freighter made its debut in Norway, where it is set to replace 40,000 diesel truck trips each year. The Yara Birkeland made a short crewed trip to the capital city of Oslo as part of its unveiling, with work now due to begin to certify it as a self-contained container ship before it begins commercial operations.
As a joint venture between chemical production company Yara and marine technology company Kongsberg, the Yara Birkeland was announced in 2017 as the world’s first fully electric and self-contained container ship. The plan is to use the ship to transport chemicals and fertilizers from the Yara production plant in Prosgrunn to nearby towns, significantly reducing NOx and CO2 emissions by removing the need for diesel truck transport.
The 80-meter-long (262-foot) vessel is powered by a 6.8 mWh battery and can carry up to 3,200 tonnes at a top speed of 15 knots (28 km / h, 17 mph). Along with the production of the ship itself, Yara taps into its own stocks of ammonia used in its fertilizer production to develop a carbon-free fuel source for eventual use aboard the Yara Birkeland. Ammonia is gaining considerable and growing interest as an alternative to diesel for long-haul shipping, although there are many issues to be addressed in terms of production and best use.
“Renewable energy was our starting point in 1905. Today ammonia can take us back to our roots,” says Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, CEO of Yara Clean Ammonia, as the initiative is called. “Our extensive transportation network and existing infrastructure mean that ammonia has the potential to become the primary fuel for long-distance shipping around the world,”
The Yara Birkeland’s maiden voyage saw it travel from the city of Horten to Oslo, approximately 70 km (43 miles) on November 18. The tour of the capital was arranged for the project partners to experience the ship up close, and for the government officials, including Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, will receive a visit from Yara CEO Svein Tore Holsether.
“We are proud to be able to present the world’s first fully electric, self-propelled container ship,” said Svein Tore Holsether, CEO of Yara. “It will reduce 1,000 tonnes of CO2 and replace 40,000 trips by diesel trucks per year.”
With its maiden voyage behind it, the Yara Birkeland will begin commercial operations in 2022, while a two-year testing period will run alongside one designed to certify it as an autonomous vehicle. Technology company Kongsberg will be responsible for integrating sensors and other autonomous navigation systems, with the path to full autonomy also including a phase of remote operation.
“We have been looking forward to this day for a long time. Yara Birkeland will transport mineral fertilizers between Porsgrunn and Brevik and contribute to significant emission reductions during transport, “said Holsether.” This is a great example of a green transition in practice, and we hope this vessel will be the start of a new type of emission-free container ship. There are a lot of places in the world with congested roads that will benefit from a high tech solution like this. “
You can see clips of the Yara Birkeland’s maiden voyage in the video below.
Yara Birkeland Drone Film: Horten’s Journey to Oslo