The first autonomous electric cargo ship is ready for use in Norway

In international cargo shipping, there is still a great gap between desire and reality. The industry has committed itself to significantly reducing both pollutant emissions and climate emissions over the next few years and decades. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by around one million tons a year in recent years. Changing that is easier said than done. Because the giant ocean liners are sometimes out at sea for weeks and cannot simply be charged there. Electric drives are therefore only conceivable in inland and coastal shipping. Here, too, they have so far played a rather subordinate role. However, some ferries are already proving that the technology is basically operational. Norway now wants to push the topic forward massively: With the Yara Birkeland, the first electric and autonomous cargo ship was launched into the water.

Photo: Kongsberg

40,000 truck trips can be saved each year

In the future, the roughly eighty-meter-long freight will transport fertilizers on a fixed route from a factory to a port. There the load is then reloaded for longer transports. The charm of this solution: Until now, the fertilizers were brought there by truck. With the help of the electric ship, 40,000 trips by trucks with diesel engines can be saved in the future. For this purpose, batteries with the capacity of around 100 Tesla vehicles were installed in the ship’s “engine room”. This would correspond to a reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 1,000 tons per year. Over the years, however, this advantage should be minimized because research is being carried out on alternative and more climate-friendly drives for trucks. By the time these are ready for the market, however, the Norwegians want to be one step further and let the freighter drive completely autonomously. Until then, the on-board acquisition and control technology must first be expanded and refined.

Autonomous control on the water is complex

As part of a two-year test phase, the ship will therefore be underway in a kind of hybrid mode. So there is a crew on board that controls the Yara Birkeland. But it is supported by the built-in technology. Letting ships sail autonomously is an enormous challenge from a technical point of view. Obstacles that suddenly appear must also be recognized underwater. In addition, the currents and winds ensure constantly changing conditions. In a first step, a lot of data must be correctly recorded. In a second step, the technology must then be able to draw the right conclusions from this. However, the engineers involved are optimistic that the ship will be able to travel fully autonomously at speeds of up to 24 kilometers per hour in just a few years. The loading and unloading process is also fully automated.

Via: Kongsberg

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