Some of the world’s largest cargo ships emit pollution comparable to millions of passenger cars put together. The heavy fuel oil that they burn has high sulfur content and therefore, it is an important part of the world’s transportation industry that needs to transition to being battery-powered.

Norway is making a first significant step toward just that with Kongsberg, a maritime engineering firm, and Yara International ASA, a large Norwegian chemical company, unveiling the concept for a new all-electric and autonomous cargo ship that they plan to have in operation as soon as next year.

Kongsberg is developing the battery system, electric drive, and all the components for autonomous navigation.

Geir Håøy, President and CEO of KONGSBERG, commented on the unveiling of the concept:

“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 towards increased seaborne transportation in general.”

The project will first aim to replace land transport, but it will serve as the basis to eventually replace larger vessels.

Yara is financing the project to use the first boat for transport between its Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik. Currently, more than 100 diesel trucks make the journeys every day and the vessel will be able to replace them all with a zero-emission solution.

Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara, said about the announcement:

“As a leading global fertilizer company with a mission to feed the world and protect the planet, investing in this zero emission vessel to transport our crop nutrition solutions fits our strategy well. We are proud to work with KONGSBERG to realize the world’s first autonomous, all-electric vessel to enter commercial operation. 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.”

They are apparently prepared to move extremely quickly to production. The pilot project between Porsgrunn and Brevik is expected to start in the latter half of 2018. At that point, the electric ship will be manned. In 2019, they expect to start using it for longer journeys in more remote areas and in 2020, they expect the ship to be capable of performing fully autonomous operations.

Here’s a video of the concept:

About the Author

Fred Lambert's favorite gear