Two Norwegian all-electric cargo vessel projects are set to lay the groundwork for autonomous operations, eliminating thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions and alleviating road congestion
In a year marked by unprecedented events, Norway’s Yara International took delivery in November of the world’s first autonomous container vessel, the fully electric-powered, zero-emissions Yara Birkeland, from Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg.
Expectations are running high around the relatively small 120-TEU feeder vessel, which will have to undergo testing for container loading and stability, before the ship will sail to a port and test area in Horten, Norway for further preparations for autonomous operation. Successful operation and lessons learned from the project could lay the groundwork for future autonomous vessel operations.
Before it obtains autonomous operation, Yara Birkeland will have go through three phases. In Phase 1, it will operate with a crew onboard, monitored by a command centre in Oslo. In Phase 2, the vessel will be remote controlled by Massterly, a 50-50 joint venture between Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen. Finally, in Phase 3, Yara Birkeland will become fully autonomous.
Yara technology partner 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 14.8 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 6.7-MWh Leclanché battery pack – one of the largest in the world – to drive the coastal container vessel to a service speed of 6 knots, with a maximum speed of 10 knots.
In May, Yara had paused construction of the vessel due to Covid-19 and the downturn in shipping. It had earlier hoped to commence operations with the zero-emissions container vessel in 2020, fitted with a detachable navigation bridge for crewed operations. When the vessel is ready for autonomous operation in Phase 3 in 2022, this module will be removed.
Among its ‘smart’ technologies will be the vessel’s navigation lighting system, supplied by Norway’s R. Stahl Transberg. These ‘plug and play’, LED Transberg BlueLine Navigation lights and searchlight have minimum maintenance and power requirements, providing onshore controllers improved understanding of situational awareness onboard and in the area of operation.
Proving particularly challenging is not the vessel itself but the landside autonomous logistics. Yara Birkeland will be equipped with an automated mooring system developed by MacGregor and loading and discharging will be done using electric cranes and equipment.
Transporting fertilser from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant via inland waters 31 nautical miles to the Norwegian ports of Larvik and Brevik, Yara Birkeland will reduce emissions and improve road safety by removing up to 40,000 truck journeys annually in a densely populated area of Norway.
“We are one step closer to our goal of enabling sustainable trade”
Such disruptive technology from a fertilizer company might be unexpected, but Yara Birkeland is an example of Yara’s ambition “to innovate and find climate-friendly solutions which can be commercialized,” said the company in a release. Production, transportation and use of mineral fertilizers contribute directly and indirectly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, CO2 and NOx.
Besides aiming to align its GHG emissions with the Paris agreement, Yara has joined with five other companies in an initiative called the Green Hydrogen Catapult. The six partners want to expand production of green hydrogen by 50-fold and bring down its cost to US$2/kg by 2026. If the world is to succeed in decarbonisation, green hydrogen in scale will be needed to supplant carbon-intensive fuels in power, industrial and transportation applications – including the maritime sector.
Moving groceries by autonomous ship
Much like Yara, grocery distributor ASKO wants to build a sustainable logistics supply chain. “We have a clear ambition to be climate neutral and have set ambitious goals, including being a self-sufficient provider of clean energy and having 100% emissions-free transport by 2026,” said ASKO maritime director Kai Just Olsen.
In September an order was placed for the construction of two all-electric, autonomous roro ships at India’s Cochin Shipyard. Kongsberg Maritime and Massterly will supply autonomous technology and vessel management for the vessels.
Norway’s Enova is backing the project, along with required port infrastructure, to the tune of Nkr119M (US$13.5M).
“These innovative ships are key to fulfilling our ambition and will form an essential component of a zero-emissions logistics chain linking our facilities,” said Mr Olsen. “Fully electric trucks will take the cargo between the warehouses and the ports of Moss and Horten,” he explained.
“In shipments of 16 trailers, cargo will be transported across the fjord on the battery-driven vessels. This solution is cost effective, sustainable and will remove trucks from heavily trafficked roads,” Mr Olsen added.
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.
Built to DNV GL class and Norwegian Maritime Authorities (NMA) safety requirements, the roros will transport goods across the Oslo fjord, replacing 2M km of truck transport and saving 5,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. ASKO currently transports its cargo from warehouses on the western side of the Oslo fjord to its distribution centre on the eastern side on more than 800 trucks daily.
Designed by Naval Dynamics AS, the 573-dwt roros will have an overall length of 67 m, beam of 1 m and a design draught of 1.7 m, with 1,846 kWh of battery capacity – enough for four hours of sailing fully loaded at eight knots.
The two Norwegian-flag roro vessels will be equipped with the technology required for zero-emissions and unmanned operations by Kongsberg Maritime.
Massterly will 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 moving towards uncrewed voyages sometime in 2024. ASKO holds an option to build two additional zero-emission vessels.
“Now we are one step closer to our goal of enabling sustainable trade: through cost effective, safe, and environmentally friendly logistics,” said Wilhelmsen Group chief executive Thomas Wilhelmsen.
A steel plate cutting ceremony for the project was held at Cochin Shipyard on 25 November.
Since the ASKO roros will operate in Norwegian coastal waters, they must satisfy NMA safety requirements before being issued approvals for operation.
NMA will therefore follow the project 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.