Kongsberg and Yara unveil design and test-model for battery-electric autonomous ship
The development of electric and autonomous shipping continues at an exceptional pace.
Having outlined its plans to build and operate an electric battery-powered, self-driving container vessel at its Norwegian factory in May, Yara has already approved a design. A model version of the “Yara Birkeland” is now being tested in SINTEF Ocean's 80m sea laboratory in Trondheim.
The ship will eventually be used to move products from Yara's Porsgrunn production plant to global shipping hubs in Brevik and Larvik. If the project proceeds as planned, Yara says it will remove up to 40,000 truck journeys per year from the road between the two locations.
Yara Birkeland is being developed in collaboration with marine engineer Kongsberg Maritime, and has been designed by fellow Norwegian company Marin Teknikk. Norwegian government enterprise ENOVA has also committed to supporting the project with a 133 million krone (US$17 million) financial contribution, which the group says will cover one third of the cost.
Kongsberg is responsible for the development and delivery of the key enabling technologies, including the sensors required for remote and autonomous operations, as well as the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.
The final vessel is 79.5m long by 14.8m wide, although information on its deadweight at maximum draft is not yet available. Nevertheless, the scale model tested at SINTEF is by no means small, weighing in at 2.4 tonnes and measuring 6m long. It also includes a fully working thruster system designed by Kongsberg, one of the main systems to undergo testing in the tanks before construction starts.
“Initial tests of the model were successful, proving both concept and the technology," remarked Kongsberg president and CEO Geir Håøy. “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.”
ENOVA CEO Nils Kristian Nakstad also noted that this would prove a valuable project in qualifying autonomous technology as a viable route for other industries and countries: “The interest in autonomous transport is great, but at the same time, many are sceptical 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.”
In May, Yara finance and logistics manager Bjørn Tore Orvik told InnovOil that he expected the ship would run on a battery of around 3.5 to 4-MWh capacity. He added that the 70m long vessel would hold around 100-150 containers, making 1-2 shipments per day, five days week.
The Porsgrunn-Brevik leg is around 13 km or less – an easy feat for battery power alone. However, the challenge will be managing the longer trip to Larvik, a distance of around 30 nautical miles (55 km). Orvik said that charging would take around 2 hours, and would be straightforward at the factory and port because the sites had enough spare grid capacity.
The shipyard taking on the contract will be selected by the end of 2017, with the vessel due for launching in the first quarter of 2019. Fully autonomous operations would then begin in 2020.
Some may be sceptical, but the reality is that the passage to fully autonomous, fully electric shipping is now well under way. The race is now on to see which pioneering operator will arrive first at this brave new world.