Called the Yara Birkeland after project founder, scientist Kristian Birkeland, this fully electric vessel is not only void of the usual fuel-burning engines, but is also fully autonomous.
We know that an ‘electric revolution’ is sweeping the world of automobiles and personal mobility, but what about larger forms of transport like ships and aeroplanes? Is electricity a viable alternative? Norwegian company Yara International thinks the tech is ready for the open ocean.
Called the Yara Birkeland after project founder, scientist Kristian Birkeland, this fully electric vessel is not only void of the usual fuel-burning engines, but is also autonomously operated with a maiden voyage planned before the end of 2021, setting sail between Herøya to nearby Brevik completely unmanned with only 3 remote control centres monitoring its progress.
First devised in 2017 and taking 3 years to build and test at an approximate cost of 25 million Euros, its owners originally intended to begin operations on the Birkeland much sooner in 2020, but faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high tech container ship measures just over 80 metres in length with a capacity of 120 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) and is powered by twin 900kW propulsion system supplied by a massive 7MWh battery (7,000kWh), equivalent to the energy capacity of 700 Tesla Model S 100D electric cars.
That said, the Birkeland isn’t a particularly quick ship with a top speed of just 13 knots. By comparison, the average container ship in this class can travel at up to 25 knots at full steam. Yara believes that its cargo-hauling duties would replace 40,000 lorry trips per year, a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while also taking traffic congestion out of the picture.
We would be interested in finding more information about the Birkeland’s charging solution and how long might a 7MWh battery take to charge; definitely much longer than a coffee break, that’s for sure.
Still, it’s hard to see fully unmanned ships like the Birkeland making their presence known at busy ports around the world, at least anytime soon. Navigating narrow waterways and mooring precisely at docks still require highly experienced humans at the helm.
With much of the world’s shipping industry dealing with highly valuable cargo required for global trade to keep on rolling, there’s just too much at stake. The legal implications of fielding an autonomous vessel are probably something most ports and operators will not be willing to deal with, which is a similar reason why autonomously operated passenger and airfreight craft have not found footing.
Norway, however, is much more suited to experimenting with a crew-less electric cargo ship with its aggressive anti-pollution policies and an abundance of coastline.