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Final design of first autonomous and fully electric container vessel revealed; model testing at SINTEF Ocean

A six-meter, 2.4-ton model of the final design of the autonomous and fully electric container vessel Yara Birkeland (earlier post) was revealed as testing commenced at SINTEF Ocean’s 80-meter test tank facility in Trondheim. ENOVA, a Norwegian government enterprise responsible for promotion of environmentally friendly production and consumption of energy, will support the project with a NOK 133-million (US$16.7-million) financial contribution.

As announced in May, Yara and Kongsberg have partnered to build the world’s first autonomous and fully electric container vessel. Yara Birkeland, named after Yara’s founder Kristian Birkeland, will enable a reduction of 40,000 road journey’s from Yara’s Porsgrunn fertilizer plant in southern Norway to the ports of Brevik and Larvik, significantly reducing local NOx and CO2 emissions produced by haulage trucks. The vessel will be delivered and begin first tests and operations early 2019, and conduct fully autonomous operations in 2020.

The Yara Birkeland is a 120 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) open-top container ship. It will be a fully battery-powered solution, prepared for remote control and autonomous operation.

The final design is spec’d (although this may change slightly as work progresses) with a 7.5-9 MWh battery pack, with two Azimuth pods and two tunnel thrusters. Proximity sensors include radar, LiDAR, AIS, camera and IR camera.

Loading and unloading will be done automatically using electric cranes and equipment. The ship will not have ballast tanks, but will use the battery pack as permanent ballast.

The ship will also be equipped with an automatic mooring system—berthing and unberthing will be done without human intervention, and will not require special implementations dock-side.

The autonomous ship will sail within 12 nautical miles from the coast between 3 ports in southern Norway. The whole area is completely covered by the The Norwegian Coastal Administrations’ VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) system at Brevik.

For the first phase of the project a containerized bridge with crew facilities will be implemented. When the ship is ready for autonomous operation this module will be lifted off.

Following the announcement in May, the vessel was designed at Norwegian design and engineering company Marin Teknikk. A 6-meter, 2.4-ton model of the final design using technology destined for the real ship, including a fully working tunnel thruster system from Kongsberg, will now undergo comprehensive testing at SINTEF Ocean before construction of the full-scale vessel starts. The decision of where the vessel is to be built will be decided and disclosed by the end of 2017.

Initial tests of the model were successful, proving both concept and the technology. The testing at SINTEF Ocean marks an important milestone in the development. This vessel is important for the entire maritime industry, and Yara deserves praise for their initiative and commitment. Yara Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals, and will be a global milestone for seaborne transportation.

—Geir Håøy, President and CEO of Kongsberg

Yara Birkeland is a collaboration between the environment-focused Norwegian agricultural company Yara, global maritime technology firm Kongsberg, DNV GL, Marin Teknikk, SINTEF Ocean and Norwegian maritime authorities.

Kongsberg is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous ship operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems on Yara Birkeland.



Interesting project to reduce pollution and GHG.

Fully automated electric barges could operate 24/7 on the Mississipi (between St-Louis and New Orleans) and could reduce accidents, pollution, GHG and labour cost?

A few on board PEMFCs could extend range (as required)?


As many know ocean going diesel powered vessels burning bunker C oil are the worse polluters on the planet. Electric powered container ships are way long overdue.

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