A Norwegian shipping company will begin using a fully-electric, emissions-free container ship, which will also be able to operate fully automatically by 2020. The ship, the Yara Birkeland, will bring several rising trends of the automobile industry to oceangoing vessels.
The ship will set sail in Europe next year, said Oslo-based fertilizer company Yara International ASA, in an announcement last Saturday. The Yara Birkeland, which is being built by Kongsberg Gruppen ASA, will have a range of over 65 nautical miles, and will be capable of transporting 100 containers at speeds of between 12 and 15 knots, according to the director of the project, Bjorn Tore Orvik. It will transport fertilizer for the company.
The milestone development could lead to a revolution in the maritime transport industry, which has traditionally depended on some of the world’s dirtiest fuels. The progress comes as the auto industry leaps forward towards fully electric vehicles and self-driving technology. On top of Google’s Alphabet Inc, which is already testing automated vehicles, traditional automakers such as Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen have stated plans to develop self-driving cars by the early 2020s.
Yara relies on over 100 diesel truck trips from its plant in Norway to the ports of Bervik and Larvik, where the company ships its products to customers worldwide, according to Yara chief executive 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 NOx and CO2 emissions,” said Holsether.
The company estimated that the Yara Birkeland will cut down on as many as 40,000 truck journeys annually. However, those journeys between Norwegian ports account for only a tiny percentage of conventional international shipping.
On Monday, Yara International shares rose 7.7 Norwegian kroner to reach 322.8 kroner.
Despite shipping lanes being less challenging when it comes to traffic, compared to roads for self-driving cars, ocean shipping entails some special challenges for developing automation, such as robust ocean currents, weather, and even piracy in some areas.
If the new technology employed by the Yara Birkeland is successful, it could significantly reduce pollution from the maritime shipping industry, a sector that is responsible for 2.3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The International Maritime Organization, which is not included in the Paris climate accord, has plans to release proposed steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.