World's First Zero-Emission Autonomous Cargo Ship Is All-Electric

The ship is expected to take 40,000 truck trips off the road every year.
Ameya Paleja
Yara Birkeland in Norwegian waters.Yara

For companies who lament that they can't do much to go 'green' since it is the entire industry that produces carbon emissions, Norway-based Yara International is a perfect example. A chemical company that makes fertilizers, Yara transports their final product in trucks across the country. It is now switching to an electric cargo ship that is less polluting and travels to its destination autonomously, CNN reported.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates, transportation accounts for 27 percent of global carbon emissions. Powered by fossil fuels, road-based transportation contributes 80 percent of these emissions and therefore countries are aggressively pushing for the electrification of vehicles.  While major advances have been made for passenger cars and air transport, water transport is still lagging. Yara's new cargo ship might just lead the way. 

The company had planned to switch to an electric cargo ship way back in 2017. It signed up Kongsberg, a company that delivers high technology systems and solutions in the maritime space to deliver the electric ship. Just a year earlier, the Norwegian government had opened up testing of autonomous ships within its maritime boundaries and Yara planned to make its cargo ship autonomous too.

Planned for operations in 2020, the project faced delays due to its unique nature and also the pandemic. But the company told CNN that it expects the ship to "set sail" later this year.

Powered by a 7 MWh battery, the ship christened, Yara Birkeland is expected to travel at a top speed of 13 knots and will carry 103 standard-sized containers. It will be charged by the quayside, before moving into position for container loading and then set course for its destination, Brevik, on the southern coast of Norway. With no crew on board, the entire journey will be monitored through three onshore data control centers, CNN reported. 

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Initially, the loading of containers is scheduled to be done by humans but the company wants to make the entire operation crewless and will work towards making autonomous cranes and container carrying vehicles next. This is also the first time an autonomous cargo ship will tread Norwegian waters. 

The estimated battery capacity of the Yara Birkeland should put it on the list of the world's top five electric ships by battery capacity. But more importantly, since most of the electricity generation in Norway is hydroelectric, it will definitely help in reducing the carbon emissions of Yara's operations. The company estimates, this shift will take off 40,000 truck trips every year and reduce carbon and nitrous oxide emissions along with noise and dust that its trucks generate.

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