Four zero-emissions shortsea shipping projects underway in Norway will help shape future autonomous operations, while eliminating thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions
Four groundbreaking, shortsea, zero-emissions vessel projects are underway in Norway that are laying the foundation for future autonomous operations.
One of those is Yara International’s fully electric-powered container vessel Yara Birkeland, which was delivered at the end of November 2020 by Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg. With the ultimate goal of operating autonomously, the relatively small 120-TEU feeder vessel will transport fertiliser from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant via nearshore waters 31 nautical miles to the Norwegian ports of Larvik and Brevik.
When it begins operation sometime in late 2021 as a crewed vessel, Yara Birkeland is expected to reduce emissions and improve road safety by removing up to 40,000 truck journeys annually in a densely populated area of Norway.
A second autonomous vessel project is being undertaken by Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO, which wants to build a sustainable logistics supply chain through 100% emissions-free transport by 2026. In September ASKO ordered key pieces of that sustainable supply chain: two all-electric, autonomous roro ships from India’s Cochin Shipyard.
The autonomous technological backbone for both the Yara and ASKO projects is being provided by Kongsberg Maritime, while vessel management and operations are being handled by its joint venture startup with Wilhelmsen, Massterly.
During a presentation at Riviera Maritime Media’s Maritime Hybrid & Electric Conference and an interview with Container Shipping & Trade, Massterly vice president of sales and marketing Pia Meling discussed some of the challenges, benefits and opportunities of autonomous vessel projects her company is supporting.
Ms Meling says the first customers for autonomous vessels are cargo owners who want to move goods by sea rather than truck. “For them, new vessels are designed, some of which are capable of being uncrewed and operated from a remote operations centre,” says Ms Meling. Besides the Yara and ASKO projects, she says, Massterly is working on a third project with Netherlands-based multimodal operator Samskip to develop a hybrid-electric and hydrogen fuel cell-driven shortsea container vessel that will operate between Norway, Poland and Sweden.
“Autonomous does not mean uncrewed,” emphasises Ms Meling. “Rather there are various degrees of operating a ship independently of human interaction.”
In the case of the Seashuttle project, Samskip’s container vessel will not be unmanned but will sail with reduced crew in Europe.
A fourth project is also starting up now in the growing zero-emissions maritime space in Norway: the HySHIP project where Massterly owner Wilhelmsen is in the lead. Government policy and financial backing is underpinning the project. Besides funding from the Norwegian Government, HySHIP received a grant of €8M (US$9.8M) from the EU Horizon 2020 programme. “The aim is to be moving cargo as well as distributing green hydrogen to end users on a scheduled route,” Ms Meling says. “This revolutionary project embraces 14 European partners collaborating on the design and construction of two new roro vessels running on liquid hydrogen, as well as establishing a viable green hydrogen supply chain. Massterly has a dedicated role in the HySHIP project, we will render assistance to crews in cargo and route planning and offer integrated safety monitoring for hydrogen storage and handling.”
In December, Enova awarded a US$25M grant to the HySHIP project to support the construction of the roro concept vessel Topeka.
Eliminating 5,000 tonnes of CO2
Meanwhile, ASKO is planning to deploy battery-driven roro vessels to transport cargo in 16 trailers per shipment across the Oslo fjord as part of their zero-emissions logistics between warehouses located nearby the ports of Horten and Moss. ASKO will use fully electric trucks to move the cargo between the warehouses and the ports.
“It’s a good business case for ASKO, and it’s a model that can be adapted to other areas,” says Ms Meling. “They are looking at the whole flow of goods from the continent into Norway and seeing what they can do differently to get more cargo onto vessels and off the roads.”
ASKO currently transports its cargo via road transport only and they deploy more than 800 trucks daily on Norwegian roads.
By moving some of the cargo off the road to water, 2M km of truck transport will be eliminated, saving 5,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.
Norway’s Enova is backing the project, along with required port infrastructure, to the tune of Nkr119M (US$13.5M).
Designed by Naval Dynamics and built to DNV GL class and Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) safety requirements, the 448-dwt roros will have an overall length of 67 m, beam of 15 m and a design draught of 1.7 m, with 1,846 kWh of battery capacity – enough for four hours sailing fully loaded at eight knots.
Massterly will, in close collaboration with Wilhelmsen Ship Management, be responsible for ship management and safe operations from its shore-based remote operations centre. When delivered in Q1 2022, the roros will initially operate with a reduced crew, before transitioning to uncrewed voyages as soon as 2024. ASKO holds an option to build two additional zero-emissions roros.
Ms Meling says shifting cargo from road to sea is critical, even if more electric or zero-emissions trucks are put into service by ASKO. “Building out road networks is expensive, inflexible and there are still issues with road maintenance and traffic congestion,” she says. “Those issues don’t exist on the seaways.”
Both Yara and ASKO’s pioneering autonomous vessel efforts needed approval in principle (AiP) from the NMA. NMA will follow the projects through a detailed risk assessment, based on IMO 1455 guidelines with regards to equivalent and alternative designs, new technology, verification, and approval for operation. DNV GL will also support this process as an independent third party.
With an AiP in place, construction of the ASKO vessels began in November 2020 with a steel plate cutting ceremony at Cochin Shipyard.
Explains Ms Meling, since autonomous vessels are still novel technology, the shipyard builds the vessel’s hull similarly to a traditional crewed vessel. Upon delivery from the yard, Kongsberg Maritime adds autonomous technology to allow the vessel to trade and be operated first with a limited crew, and later uncrewed.
“For the ASKO vessels, we plan to start operating with a crew of two instead of five,” she says. Once approval is secured from the authorities to sail with a limited crew, the vessels will undergo a testing period – anticipated to be two years – in commercial operations on their intended routes before uncrewed voyages can commence. The vessels will be monitored with a link and data sent to Massterly’s remote operations centre, manned by experienced operators and crew employed by Wilhelmsen Ship Management (WSM) and be part of WSM’s Safety Management System and Document of Compliance.
Ensuring safe operations
As autonomous vessel operations mature, the real value of the remote operations centre will be integrating information from various points along the logistics value chain, providing the operators with better insight for decision support, lowering costs, improving safety and increasing efficiency.
Areas of automation include support systems onshore such as automated mooring systems, autonomous cranes, reach stackers, straddle carriers and terminal tractors and the installation of a situational awareness package and sensors on board the vessel that can detect and classify objects and obstructions, ensuring safe operations. “If there is a limited crew on board they are still responsible for steering the vessel, but many of the processes and tasks performed manually today can become both safer and more efficient by using automation” says Ms Meling.
While vessels only trading in domestic waters are not subject to international regulations set by IMO, they are subject to rules of national regulators, flag states and those of the IMO convention on International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs).
During this period with a limited crew, data on connectivity, cyber threat management, various operational scenarios and weather conditions will be collected and analysed to identify potential risks and mitigating actions. This data is submitted to the authorities for assessment with the goal of gaining approval to operate as an uncrewed autonomous vessel. The test results must prove the vessel is as safe or safer than a crewed vessel in the same operation, says Ms Meling.
To minimise the risk of loss of connectivity, there will be triple redundancy built into the system, using satellite communications, mobile networks and dedicated narrow bandwidth systems.
In the case of lost connectivity, the vessel will be tripped into a safe state, such as dropping anchor or conducting dynamic positioning. Ms Meling points out that in the case of both ASKO and Yara that operate nearshore, rescue vessels, towing vessels and tugs can be quickly deployed to assist the vessels if needed.
Globally, navies have been deploying autonomous vessel and uncrewed submarines for years, says Ms Meling. “They are something that the public just doesn’t see.” While safety is a priority, says Ms Meling, her biggest concern is a lack of operational efficiency in the early days of uncrewed operations. “Safety has been thought about again and again in every component, and there’s so much redundancy built into the system and risk containment,” she says. If the autonomous vessel detects too many potentially dangerous objects or obstructions, it could end up operating inefficiently or “lying still”.
Over the next two years in actual commercial operations, the algorithms will be “trained”, she says, improving their situational awareness and object assessment.
Commenting on the project, ASKO director Kai Just Olsen says, “These innovative ships are key to fulfilling our ambition and will form an essential component of a zero-emissions logistics chain linking our facilities.”
Much like Yara’s project, ASKO’s grew out of a pilot undertaken through DNV GL’s Green Shipping Programme, aimed at taking a more sustainable approach to moving goods currently transported on roads to the water.
With more than 20 years of experience supplying autonomous underwater vehicles, Kongsberg Maritime developed the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous ship operations – radar, lidar, AIS, cameras and IR cameras – in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.
Designed by Marin Teknikk with an overall length of 80 m, beam of 15 m and draught of 6 m, Yara Birkeland will be propelled by electric motors driving two 900-kW Brunvoll PU74 azimuth pulling thrusters and two 700-kW Brunvoll FU63 tunnel thrusters. The electric motors will draw on battery power from a 7-MWh Leclanché battery pack – one of the largest in the world – to drive the coastal container vessel to a service speed of 6-7 knots, with a maximum speed of 13 knots.
In April 2020, Yara decided to pause the development of the vessel due to the Covid-19 pandemic and changed global outlook. However, at the end of November 2020, the ship was handed over to Yara from the Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg. The vessel has undergone testing for container loading and stability before it sailed to a port and test area in Horten, Norway for further preparations for autonomous operation.
Yara Birkeland is an example of Yara’s ambition to innovate and find climate-friendly solutions which can be commercialised. However, innovation projects come with uncertainties and challenges. In particular, the autonomous logistics on land have proven to be a challenge for the project. The construction of the ship has been done according to plan with slight delays, including fitting the battery, control, and navigation systems. For the autonomous logistics on land, the project team continues to look for simplified solutions. Yara’s goal is to complete the project and bring the emissions-free ship into commercial operation.
Ms Meling comments that for any project involving autonomous vessels, the focus must be on creating efficient logistics, including loading, unloading, mooring, charging batteries or bunkering a green fuel, and “first/last mile” transport. The sea voyage is only a part of a logistics operation where cargo or passengers are moved from A to B. By integrating all the data sources in this logistics chain, the potential of real value creation is unleashed, reducing wasted time, energy and resources. Massterly’s Remote Operations Centre intends to be a catalyst for co-ordination, efficiency gains and economies of scale.
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