Final Design for First Zero-Emission Autonomous Containership Unveiled in Norway

Photo: Ole Martin Wold

The final design of is what is looking to become the world’s first autonomous and zero emission containership was released Friday in Trondheim, Norway.

Norwegian fertilizer producer announced the first-of-its-kind vessel in May in partnership with maritime technology company Kongsberg.

The planned fully-electric and autonomous container feeder ship, to be named YARA Birkeland, will cut emissions from road transport when it starts shipping products from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to Norway’s Brevik and Larvik ports beginning in 2019. The vessel will start off with manned operations, but could transition to autonomous, unmmanned operations as soon as 2020.

A six-meter long model of the final design of the vessel was launched in SINTEF Ocean’s 80 meter long sea laboratory. Design for the vessel is provided by Marin Teknikk.

A shipyard to build the vessel will be selected by the end of 2017, according to Yara. The plan is to launch Yara Birkeland in the first quarter of 2019.

“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 emissions,” says President and CEO of Yara, Svein Tore Holsether. “It was a special moment in Trondheim when, together with our partners — Kongsberg, Marin Teknikk , SINTEF and ENOVA — we witness the design and demonstration of a miniature Yara Birkeland for the first time.”

If all goes according to plan, Yara Birkeland will be game-changer for global maritime transportation.

The cutting-edge, six meters long and 2.4 tonnes model is equipped with miniaturized technology that will be incorporated into the real ship, including a fully working thruster system designed by Kongsberg. It will now undergo comprehensive testing at SINTEF’s test tanks before construction of the full-scale vessel starts.

“Initial tests of the model were successful, proving both concept and the technology,” says Geir Håøy, President and CEO of Kongsberg. “The testing at SINTEF Ocean marks an important milestone in the development. This vessel is important for the entire maritime industry, and Yara deserves praise for their initiative and commitment. Yara Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals, and will be a global milestone for seaborne transportation.”

To help develop the Yara Birkeland, the Norwegian government has provided a grant of almost $17 million (NOK 133.6 million) to Yara towards the construction of the ship. This will cover about one third of the estimated cost.

“For the private sector, it is essential to have the government’s support when we develop new technology and deliver bold innovations. It allows us to be daring,” says Holsether.

“The interest in autonomous transport is great, but at the same time, many are skeptical and question the safety. The key contribution from this project is to demonstrate that autonomous and electric sea transport is feasible, and will deliver the results we want, “says Nils Kristian Nakstad, CEO of ENOVA, a Norwegian government entity responsible for promoting and supporting environmentally friendly production and energy consumption.

Yara Birkeland will be named after Yaras’s founder, Kristian Birkeland.

By moving this transport from road to sea, Yara will remove 40,000 journeys with diesel-powered truck transport every year.