May 10, 2017 11:55 AM, EDT

Autonomous Containership to Make Debut in 2020


Norwegian fertilizer company Yara plans to partner with manufacturer Kongsberg to build an autonomous ship to reroute ist cargo from roads to the water.

Expected to be ready next year, the zero-emissions battery-powered ship will be manually controlled initially and ready for autonomous operations by 2020.

Yara expects to reduce truck trips by 40,000 a year by rerouting its cargo to the sea.

"Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from Yara's Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik, where we ship products to customers around the world. 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," Svein Tore Holsether, CEO of Yara, said in a statement.

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Kongsberg will develop and deliver the key technologies on the ship, named the Yara Birkeland, including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems, according to the company.

"By moving container transport from land to sea, Yara Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals. The new concept is also a giant step forward toward increased seaborne transportation in general," Geir Håøy, CEO of Kongsberg, said in a statement.

"Developing systems for autonomous operations is a major opening and natural step for Kongsberg, considering our decades of expertise in the development and integration of advanced sensors, control and communication systems for all areas of ship operations. Yara Birkeland will set the benchmark for the application of innovative maritime technology for more efficient and environmentally friendly shipping,"  Håøy said.

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The ship is named after Yara’s founder, the famous scientist and innovator Kristian Birkeland, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times.

Rolls-Royce recently said it will establish a research and development center for autonomous shipping and increasing digitalization in the marine industry.

The manufacturer said it partnered with Tekes, the Finnish funding agency for innovation, to start the research facility in Turku, Finland.

The facility will focus on the development of land-based control centers and the use of artificial intelligence in future remote and autonomous shipping operations, according to Rolls-Royce.