Launch of the first autonomous electric cargo ship in Norway

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Oslo (AFP) – Zero emissions and, soon, zero crew: the world’s first fully electric autonomous freighter has been unveiled in Norway, a modest but promising step towards reducing the climate footprint of the maritime industry.

By shipping up to 120 containers of fertilizer from a plant in the southeastern town of Porsgrunn to the port of Brevik a dozen kilometers (about eight miles) away, the much retarded Yara Birkeland, presented to the media on Friday, will eliminate the need for around 40,000 truck trips per year, now fueled by polluting diesel.

“Of course there have been difficulties and setbacks,” said Svein Tore Holsether, managing director of Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara.

“But it’s even more rewarding to stand here today in front of this ship and see that we were able to do it,” he said, with the sleek blue and white ship moored behind him in a quay. from Oslo, where she had been sailed for the event.

The 80-meter, 3,200-tonne deadweight vessel will soon begin two years of work trials during which it will be refined to learn to maneuver on its own.

The wheelhouse could be completely gone in “three, four or five years,” Holsether said, after the ship made its 7.5 nautical mile voyages on its own using sensors.

“Many incidents that occur on ships are due to human error, for example due to fatigue,” said project manager Jostein Braaten from the possibly doomed bridge.

“Autonomous operation can allow safe travel,” he said.

While the distance the Yara Birkeland will cover may be short, it will face a number of obstacles.

He will have to navigate a narrow fjord, and pass under two bridges while handling the currents and heavy traffic of merchant ships, pleasure boats and kayaks, before docking in one of Norway’s busiest ports.

The next few months will be a learning period.

“First of all, we have to detect that there is something there. We have to understand that it is a kayak, and then we have to figure out what to do with it,” Braaten said.

“Currently, large ships don’t do much with a kayak. There is not much they can do. They can warn, but they can’t walk away ”or back up to avoid an incident.

Autonomous navigation will require new regulations that do not yet exist.

“100 Tesla”

On board the Yara Birkeland, the traditional engine room has been replaced by eight battery compartments, giving the vessel a capacity of 6.8 MWh – sourced from renewable hydropower.

“It’s the equivalent of 100 Teslas,” says Braaten.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store visits Birkeland power grid – equivalent to 100 Teslas Torstein Bøe NTB / AFP

The maritime sector, which is responsible for nearly three percent of all human-made emissions, aims to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050.

Despite this, the sector has seen growth in recent years.

International and domestic shipping and fishing combined, the industry emitted more than one billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018, up from 962 million tonnes in 2012, according to the latest figures from the International Maritime Organization. .

On its own, Yara Birkeland’s contribution to global climate efforts will be just a drop in the ocean – removing 678 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year produced by redundant trucks.

And experts don’t expect electric ships to become a one-size-fits-all solution for the industry anytime soon.

“Electricity has a ‘niche’ use, especially for ferries as these are often short and stable routes, possibly on coastal and river transport. But it is not well suited for long ocean crossings,” said Camille Egloff, shipping expert at Boston Consulting Group.

“Not only (a ship) should be self-sufficient over long distances, but ports should also be equipped with battery chargers. So there are technical and infrastructure challenges that should be coordinated,” she said. .

While dozens of electric ferries already ply the fjords of Norway – a major producer of oil and gas that is paradoxically also a leader in electric transport – liners will have to rely on other technologies to go green, like LNG, e-methanol and hydrogen.


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