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‘First’ autonomous container ship will be electrically powered

10 May, 2017

Two Norwegian companies have announced plans to build the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, which will be able to navigate without needing any crew.

Kongsberg – a technology company specialising in marine and offshore applications – will design and build the battery-powered vessel for the fertiliser manufacturer Yara. It will replace more than 40,000 journeys currently made every year by diesel trucks that transport goods from Yara’s production plant at Porsgrunn to major container ports at Brevik (about 15km away) and Larvik (26km away), where the containers are transferred to ocean-going container ships.

The fully electric Yara Birkeland vessel, described as “the world’s most advanced container feeder ship”, is planned to enter service in the second half of 2018. Initially, it will operate as a manned vessel, before moving to remote operation in 2019, and is expected to operate fully autonomously from 2020.

Yara and Kongsberg describe the battery-powered, zero-emission vessel as “a game-changer for global maritime transport” that will contribute to meeting the UN’s sustainability goals.

Kongsberg will be responsible for developing and delivering all of the key enabling technologies for the new vessel, including its electric drives, batteries and propulsion control systems, as well as the sensors and integration needed to achieve remote and autonomous operations. Sensing systems will guide the vessel to and from its berthing positions, where electrically-powered cranes and straddle carriers will move the containers to and from the ship. At sea, the vessel will be able to reroute itself automatically around any obstacles.

The Yara Birkeland will be the world's first autonomous, electrically powered container vessel

“By moving container transport from land to sea, Yara Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals,” says Kongsberg’s president and CEO, Geir Håøy. “The new concept is also a giant step forward towards increased seaborne transportation in general.

“Developing systems for autonomous operations is a major opening and natural step for Kongsberg,” he continues, “considering our decades of expertise in the development and integration of advanced sensors, control and communication systems for all areas of ship operations.”

Yara’s president and CEO, Svein Tore Holsether, points out that “every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik where we ship products to customers around the world. With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we will move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions.

“As a leading global fertiliser company with a mission to feed the world and protect the planet, investing in this zero-emission vessel to transport our crop nutrition solutions fits our strategy well,” he adds.

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