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Short-Range Electric Container Ship Yara Birkeland Expected To Operate Mostly Autonomously By 2020

A short-range, all-electric coastal container ship known as the Yara Birkeland, being jointly developed by the Norwegian firms Yara and Kongsberg Gruppen, is expected to operate largely autonomously by 2020 or so.

A short-range, all-electric coastal container ship known as the Yara Birkeland, being jointly developed by the Norwegian firms Yara and Kongsberg Gruppen, is expected to operate largely autonomously by 2020 or so.

This is presuming, of course, that regulatory and permitting needs are met by then. While the ship itself will begin operations in 2018, early operations will be with a crew — they won’t be autonomous.

The idea is probably one that should be familiar by now: the fewer employees you have, and the more that you can rely on automation, the higher the potential profits are.

That said, the deployment of electric, short-range autonomous container ships stands as a possible means of greatly reducing fossil fuel use in some regions (and thus as a means of slashing carbon emissions somewhat). The Yara Birkeland will reportedly replace the equivalent of up to 40,000 diesel truck trips a year.

“Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik,” commented Yara’s president and CEO, Svein Tore Holsether. “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 nitrous oxide and CO2 emissions.”

ArsTechnica provides more: “The $25 million Birkeland — described by some shipping executives as the ‘Tesla of the Seas’ — is being jointly developed by the fertilizer company Yara and the maritime and defense technology firm Kongsberg Gruppen. The ship will initially be crewed from an on-board control center within a cargo container. Eventually, the container will be moved ashore, and the ship will be remotely operated. It will navigate autonomously by utilizing GPS and avoid collisions using a combination of sensors.

“Birkeland will be a relatively small ‘feeder’ cargo ship; its journeys will be short jaunts down a fjord on Norway’s Baltic Sea coast from Yara’s factory to a larger port. There, containers of fertilizer will be loaded onto larger seagoing ships for international transport. Currently, Yara ships these containers over land.”

Hard to argue with that assessment. The plans seem to make sense from all angles. Unsurprisingly, the firm is aiming to, following the success of this project, invest in larger autonomous ships, to be used on longer routes. The plan is apparently to “maybe even move our fertilizer from Holland all the way to Brazil” eventually.


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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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