Marine

World's first all-electric autonomous container ship to set sail in 2018

World's first all-electric aut...
The Yara Birkeland is set to be the world's first all-electric, autonomous shipping container vessel when it launches in late 2018
The Yara Birkeland is set to be the world's first all-electric, autonomous shipping container vessel when it launches in late 2018
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This is the current road pathway Yara uses – the shipping route could replace 40,000 truck trips per year
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This is the current road pathway Yara uses – the shipping route could replace 40,000 truck trips per year
The Yara Birkeland
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The Yara Birkeland
The Yara Birkeland
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The Yara Birkeland
The Yara Birkeland
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The Yara Birkeland
The Yara Birkeland is set to be the world's first all-electric, autonomous shipping container vessel when it launches in late 2018
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The Yara Birkeland is set to be the world's first all-electric, autonomous shipping container vessel when it launches in late 2018
The Yara Birkeland
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The Yara Birkeland

While self-driving cars are regularly in the news, we haven't heard as much noise on the autonomous shipping front, which could have equally far-reaching ramifications. Now Norwegian company Yara has teamed up with maritime technology company Kongsberg to build the world's first all-electric and autonomous container ship, which is set to hit the high seas late in 2018.

The hi-tech container ship, named Yara Birkeland, will carry chemicals and fertilizer from Yara's Prosgrunn production plant to the nearby towns of Brevik and Larvik. It will first operate as a manned vessel in 2018, before transitioning to remote operation in 2019 and fully autonomous control by 2020.

The most immediate benefit of the new operation comes from a major reduction in NOx and CO2 emissions as the company shifts its product transportation from what previously required 40,000 truck journeys a year to this new, all-electric shipping pathway.

"With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we 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," says Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of YARA.

The Yara Birkeland
The Yara Birkeland

On the autonomous side of things there are still plenty of pragmatic and regulatory hurdles to overcome before there are fully robotic ships crisscrossing our oceans. Norway is at the forefront of working through these issues with the The Norwegian Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration last year signing an agreement designating the Trondheim fjord as the world's first test area specifically for autonomous ships.

We also recently saw Rolls Royce propose a vision of autonomous shipping where robotic ships with no decks were remotely monitored by teams in control centers on shore. The advantages of autonomous or remote-controlled ships could be immense, with vessels redesigned for maximum efficiency by removing any need for human cabins or decks.

With Yara and Kongsberg launching the first commercial, all-electric, autonomous container ship, it seems the gauntlet has been dropped. Their expectations of a 2020 date for fully autonomous operations mirrors the date Rolls Royce predicted last year, so it's likely a future of self-piloted sea vessels could be coming faster than self-driving cars.

The benefits of the ship are outlined in the video below.

Source: Yara

A revolutionary invention in the spirit of Birkeland

11 comments
Milton
funny how many things are supposed to happen in 2020, and not 2021. I feel like I've been hearing of all these things since 2016. Curious to see what next big thing is slated for AFTER 2020
Bob Flint
If anybody can do this, it's the Norwegians, very feasible, and autonomous on the water is far simpler than on land with millions of other vehicles buzzing around. Interested in some of the parameters such as run time, charging, and cost comparison versus dirty diesel.
Ed Llorca
Lots of benefits as listed. The biggest problem I have with shipping, is the time required to cross the pacific. 4+ weeks vs 2 days via air. Would love to see faster vessels not necessarily more efficient.
Paul Anthony
Of course you have to call the ship Thor after the norse god of lighting.
Future3000
I love it when boys dream.... I know they want to build a "small" Container vessel for shortrange transportation, but a perfectly simulated modern container vessel ULCS with 18.000-20.000 TEU has 70.000 KW Diesel propulsion and needs 21 days from China to Europe, so it needs around: 70.000 KW x 24 h x 21 days = 35.280.000 KWh battery storage for one way. Best batteries weights 3 kg per KWh, but mostly 10 kg per KWh, so the battery pack for a "real" ULCS container vessel would weight 352.800.000 kg or 352.800 metric tons. Twice as the ULCS can carry... WHY shall this operate ten in their "small" vessel? ULCS are so optimal, they need less energy per TEU and km than any other vehicle! Nuclear power or other Electric generators propulsion ok, but batteries? Please enlighten me! Why no datas about their "dream"?
GeorgeE.Jones
Articles of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972) Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.
David Bruce James
Is someone on shore with a continuous monitoring of the craft? It isn't rare to encounter emergencies. A craft that has lost power in heavy seas, or/and is sinking. Or someone boarding to plant drugs or explosives.
RaySpore
How is the crew going to steal the containers in the middle of the ocean, and and what about how the insurance companies are going to crash the ships in the middle of the ocean
AndyHapps
In my small experience of shipping the main job of the crew is to maintain the condition of the ship during each voyage with the Captain and officers doing the guiding. If there is no crew, how long will these vessels last?
YuraG
@Future3000 - I can't see much in common between the Yara &Kongsberg vessel and an ULCS.