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Norway to launch world’s first autonomous, zero-emissions container ship in 2018

Norway to launch world’s first autonomous, zero-emissions container ship in 2018
Source: Kongsberg.com

New clean, green, crew-less electric ship called the ‘Yara Birkeland’ is paving the way to drastically reduce emissions in the heavily oil-reliant shipping industry.

This “Tesla of the Seas”is designed to navigate itself around other maritime traffic and dock itself

Two Norwegian companies are taking the lead in the race to build the world’s first crewless, fully autonomous ship, in an advance that could mark a ‘sea change’ in the shipping industry. Dubbed by some shipping executives the “Tesla of the Seas,” the Yara Birkeland is scheduled to start sailing fertiliser 37 miles down a fjord from a production facility to the port of Larvik. Using in combination the GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, cameras and sensors, the electric ship is designed to navigate itself around other maritime traffic and to dock itself upon arrival at its destination port.

Operation is planned to start in the latter half of 2018, shipping products from YARA's Porsgrunn production plant to Brevik and Larvik in Norway. Source: Facebook/BrightVibes

Ship set to replace 40,000 truck journeys per year through urban areas in southern Norway

The Yara Birkeland is being jointly developed by agriculture company Yara International ASA and Kongsberg Gruppen AS A, which builds guidance systems for civilian and military use, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Petter Ostbo, Yara’s head of production who is leading the project, says that the company would be looking to invest in larger ships to ply on longer routes once international regulations are in place for crew-less vessels. “Maybe even move our fertiliser from Holland all the way to Brazil,” he said.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates maritime travel, doesn’t foresee legislation governing crew-less ships to be in place before 2020.

While shipping executives believe autonomous vessels will be popular for many short sea routes, they doubt they will replace the oceangoing megaships that move thousands of containers across continents, with average crew sizes of around 25.

“It’s not a matter of technology, which is already there, but a business case,” said Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen. “Autonomous ships are expensive to begin with, and have to be built very robust, because if they break down, the cost of getting a team to fix them it in the middle of the ocean will be very high.”

In addition to reducing fuel and labor costs, the Birkeland project is being pitched as a way to cut emissions. The ship is expected to replace 40,000 truck journeys per year through urban areas in southern Norway, the companies say.
The vessel Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions. KONGSBERG is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous ship operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.
The world’s first zero emission, autonomous container feeder The vessel Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions. KONGSBERG is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous ship operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems. Source: Kongsberg.com

Air pollution linked to 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, costing society €58+ billion

Whilst we worry about car, plane and truck caused emissions, we seem to forget about container ships. Air pollution emissions from ships are continuously growing, while land-based emissions are gradually coming down.

If things are left as they are, by 2020 shipping will be the biggest single emitter of air pollution in Europe, even surpassing the emissions from all land-based sources put together.

Although they are the least environmentally damaging way to transport goods around the world, nevertheless they release huge amounts of highly damaging pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxide.

Air pollution is linked to 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, at an annual cost to society of over €58 billion*

Source: *2017 European Federation for Transport and Environment AISBL

The Norwegians are not alone in looking into autonomous shipping

The Birkeland will become autonomous in stages. First, a single container will be used as a manned bridge on board. Then the bridge will be moved to shore and become a remote-operation centre. The vessel will eventually run fully on its own, under supervision from shore, in 2020.

“When the bridge goes on land, it will be something like flying a drone from a command centre,” said Kongsberg’s chief executive, Geir Haoy. “It will be GPS navigation and lots of high-tech cameras to see what’s going around the ship.”

The Norwegians are not alone in looking into autonomous shipping. British manufacturer Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC is investing in similar technology and plans to launch robotic ships by 2020 (see below)

The first vessels are likely to be tugboats and ferries, with cargo ships that can sail through international waters to follow.

“Once the regulation is in place, I can see this spreading fast. There is a lot of interest from operators of coastal tankers, fish-transport vessels and supply ships that are knocking on our door.” Said Mr. Haoy.

Source: WallStreetJournal

Rolls-Royce shaping the future of shipping Electric Blue, a modular container feeder design, where gensets, fuel, batteries and even crew quarters, are housed in easily swappable containers. This modularisation makes sense at a fleet level, where individual vessels can be optimised for specific routes taking advantage of standard interfaces to swap modules to meet the requirements of customers, ports and environmental legislation. A virtual bridge is located below cargo comprising automatic look-out and decision support with intelligence based on advanced analytics, making it autonomous operation-ready. Source: Youtube/RollsRoyce
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