Do you think fully automated electric vehicles are only for roads or air? Then hold your breaths! Because today we will introduce you to the Tesla of seas, “Yara Birkeland.” World’s first-ever zero-emission and autonomous ship that runs entirely on batteries. This means it doesn’t need any captain to hold the wheel or any diesel to run. It’s all about the automation that can change the whole transportation via sea.
And the most amazing fact about this autonomous ship is, it was made with the moto to reduce Nitric oxide (NOx) and Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on earth. As the Yara CEO, Svein Tore Holsether, says, this world’s first fully electric and self-propelled container ship will cut 1,000 tonnes of CO2 and replace 40,000 trips with diesel-powered trucks a year.
Even winning the Næringslivets Klimapris 2018 at the ZERO conference, Yara Birkeland is determined to move transport from road to sea, reduce noise and dust, and improve the safety of local roads’ safety with zero emissions.
So, let’s find out, will this company be able to complete its moto? And What future holds for these autonomous ships on the sea?
Journey of Yara Birkeland
Named after Yaras’s founder, Kristian Birkeland, the journey of Yara Birkeland started with the partnership of YARA and KONGSBERG on May 10, 2017. Here, the company Yara was the project investor and wanted to create the world’s first autonomous electric ship to transport their products from YARA’s Porsgrunn production plant to Brevik and Larvik in Norway. The company KONGSBERG was combined to integrate the sensor, control, communication, and electric systems.
KONGSBERG was a leading global maritime technology company responsible for developing and delivering the newly developed self-propelled ship. Also, the control of the ship will be handled by the Massterlys’ monitoring and operation center in Horten, a joint venture of KONGSBERG and Wilhelmsen. The vessel will travel through the inland waterways from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to the deep-sea ports of Larvik and Brevik, which is a journey of 31 nautical miles of deep seas.
Thus, the companies connected with Marin Teknikk and got a beautiful yet practical design of an autonomous ship revealed in September 2017 and launched in the 80-meter long sea laboratory at SINTEF Ocean in Trondheim for testing. The test model was 6 meters long with a weight of 2.4 tonnes and was equipped with all the technology like a fully working thruster system destined for the actual ship by Kongsberg.
After comprehensive testing at SINTEF’s test tanks, the full-scale vessel finally went for construction in 2018. Yara selects Vard as the shipbuilder of the world’s first autonomous and electric container vessel. Vard was a leading global shipbuilder of specialized vessels and signed the deal with a budget of approximately NOK 250 million to build the vessel.
To accomplish that high shipbuilding budget, Yara got an investment of NOK 133.6 million from a Norwegian government enterprise ENOVA. Even the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, was present at the signing ceremony held at the shipyard in Brevik, Norway.
Along with starting the shipbuilding process, Yara also got into an agreement with Kalmar, the leading cargo handling supplier. They were appointed to deliver all necessary autonomous equipment, software, and services to build a unique and fully digitalized container handling solution Yara. This means all critical operations of the world’s first autonomous and electric container vessel will be done in a fully autonomous and cost-efficient manner.
According to the Senior Vice President, Automation and Projects, Kalmar, Tove Andersen, It was the first time they made the world’s first fully digitalized and electric supply chain operation, including loading, unloading and sailing the ship.
Not only, Kalmar, there were also many several firsts for the companies that stand behind the Yara Birkeland. It seems all the leading companies had taken a big bet on this autonomous ship and nobody knew what the future holds for the digitalized cargo ship. But the big bet turned into a huge success, and the world’s first fully emission-free container ship Yara Birkeland went for its first maiden ship on NOVEMBER 18, 2021.
The Self-propelled container ship started its journey from Horten to Oslo fjord, where she was welcomed by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy Bjørnar Skjæran for its successful voyage. Yara Birkeland begins its two-year testing period of technology that makes the ship self-propelled. Hopefully, being certified as an autonomous electric container ship, Yara Birkeland will start its commercial operation in 2022 and revolutionize sea transport with a zero-emission autonomous ship.
Inside the Yara Birkeland Ship
Peeking inside the Yara Birkeland, we would see some great techs that have the potential to revolutionize seaborne transport. From loading-unloading to sailing, everything will be autonomous in this ship.
The journey of Yara Birkeland will start from Yara’s production plant in Porsgrunn, Norway, where the carriers will be loaded in the ship with an electric straddle carrier and a fully autonomous electric crane. After the loading is completed, the cargo will moor and sail autonomously on the preferred route selected by the company using the sensors and technology. And will never stray further than 12 nautical miles from the coast.
Running on the two Azipull pods, each producing 900 KW of power and a pair of Tunnel thrusters producing 700 KW of power, Yara can sail over the seas with a max speed of 15 knots. The capacity is 1000 times of any domestic electric vehicle. To run those pods and tunnels on the sea, the ship has a battery capacity of 6.8 MWh. To juice, those gigantic batteries clean hydroelectric plants supplied by swiss technology firm Leclanche will be piped in from Norwegian Grid. Also, with having a deadweight of 3200 mt, the cargo can carry up to 120 TEU of 20-foot containers.
During the whole sailing process, the operation center will monitor the ship 24/7. The navigation sensors and communication technology of Yara will make the whole status and location of the Yara Birkeland on the screens. The Sensors can sense what’s around on Norway’s hectic waterways through a complex suite of radar, lidar, Nautical AIs that’s an automatic identification system, where the regular cameras and infrared cameras that work at night will give a clear view of what’s happening near the ship. And if any problem occurs during the journey, the operation center will manage the cargo sailing without any human.
Future of Green Ship
After self-driving cars and uncrewed airliners, self-propelled cargo ships are another big revolution that the future needs. Though Yara Birkeland has the international fame of the first electric Zero Emission ship, it is not the first electric transport that sailed on the sea. The first electric title was taken by a ferry; Ampere launched in Norled back in 2015. Joining the list, The Chinese, E5 Consortium and PORT-Liner is also building electric sea vehicles that will slowly take over the whole sea transport industry.
If this happens, it is clearly seen that the carbon emission and water pollution made by the diesel cargos or ships will stop, and the world will be able to breathe a little more accessible for those all-electric vehicles. The global supply chains that have been stopped during the pandemic situations can be handled more easily if the innovators can produce more electric cargo ships for transporting. Even without thinking about the labor market or pandemic situation, cargos can sail by own all year round.
So, it’s evident that the electric cargo ships will be a big game-changer for the future of seaborne transports, and Yara Birkeland is just the start.