Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara has debuted its long-awaited Yara Birkeland, the world’s first electric and autonomous container ship for emission-free shipping. The ship departed for its maiden voyage Friday in the Oslo fjord.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, along with Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy Bjørnar Skjæran, were on hand to tour the ship following its arrival in Oslo.

“We are proud to be able to showcase the world’s first fully electric and self-propelled container ship. It will cut 1,000 tonnes of CO2 and replace 40,000 trips by diesel-powered trucks a year, says Svein Tore Holsether, CEO of Yara.

Yara has been working with maritime technology company Kongsberg on the development of the vessel since 2017 – a pioneering project leading the maritime shipping industry’s journey towards autonomous operations and zero-emission shipping. The project was nearly derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the planned delivery of the vessel by over a year.

The 120 TEU ship will cut emissions and reduce road transport by up to 40,000 truckloads per year while transporting fertilizer products from Yara’s Porsgrunn plant to Norway’s Brevik and Larvik ports.

The route will have it sail within 12 nautical miles from the coast between the ports of Herøya, Brevik and Larvik in southern Norway. The area is managed by the Norwegian Coastal Administrations’ VTS system at Brevik and the distances between the ports are approximately 7 nm for Herøya – Brevik and 30 nm Herøya – Larvik.

Yara Birkeland route. Courtesy Kongsberg

The ship was constructed by VARD and it will begin manned commercial operations from 2022, kicking off a two-year testing period of the technology that will make the ship self-propelled and finally certified as an autonomous, all-electric container ship.

The ship will be operated from Massterlys’ monitoring and operations center in Horten. Massterly is a joint venture between KONGSBERG and Wilhelmsen.

“Norway is a big ocean and maritime nation, and other nations look to Norway for green solutions at sea. Yara Birkeland is the result of the strong knowledge and experience we have in the Norwegian maritime cluster and industry. The project demonstrates how we have developed a world-leading innovation that contributes to the green transition and provides great export opportunities for Norwegian technology and industry, says Geir Håøy, CEO of the Kongsberg Group.

Enova, a government enterprise responsible for promoting renewable energy projects, has allocated up to NOK 133.5 million for the project.

“On the way to a low-emission society, transport emissions must come down to almost zero. To achieve that, we need projects that can transform the market – projects that have the potential to pave the way for others and increase the pace of change in their sector. This is exactly what we believe the world’s first autonomous and all-electric container ship will do, says Nils Kristian Nakstad, CEO of Enova.

Alongside the construction of Yara Birkeland, Yara has also initiated the development of green ammonia as an emission-free fuel for shipping, through the company’s newly started Yara Clean Ammonia unit.

“Renewable energy was our starting point in 1905. Now, ammonia can bring us back to our roots. Our large shipping network and existing infrastructure means that ammonia has the potential to become the leading fuel for long-distance shipping globally,” says Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, CEO of Yara Clean Ammonia.

As the world’s largest producer of fertilizers, Yara relies on ammonia for its fertilizer production. At the same time, current ammonia production represents 2 percent of the world’s fossil energy consumption, corresponding to about 1.2 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“As the world’s largest producer of ammonia, Yara has launched an offensive plan of international scale, both to remove current emissions and to establish the production of new, clean ammonia,” says Ankarstrand.

Yara Birkeland Main Particulars, provided by Kongsberg:

  • Length o.a.: 79,5 m
  • Length p.p.: 72,4 m
  • Width mld.: 14,8 m
  • Depth shelter deck: 10,8 m
  • Draught (full): 6 m
  • Draught (ballast): 3 m
  • Service speed: 6 knots
  • Max speed: 13 knots

Capacity

  • Cargo capacity: 120 TEU
  • Deadweight: 3 200 mt

Propulsion

  • Propulsion system: Electric
  • Propellers: 2 Azimuth pods
  • Thrusters: 2 Tunnel thruster
  • Battery pack: 7 – 9 MWh

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Mr Mike Schuler