Yara Birke­land, the first au­ton­o­mous zero emis­sion ship ini­tia­tive is ready to sail.

A joy­stick and 20 com­puter screens; within a few years this could be the face of ship­ping. No more spend­ing months on a ves­sel or truck, but check­ing mul­ti­ple ves­sels at the same time from ashore.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - ANRIKE VISSER

This might sound like a far fetched fu­ture, but it might be closer than you think. The first ves­sel of its kind has al­ready been de­vel­oped in Nor­way. To be hon­est, this is as of now just a minia­ture ver­sion, but the model leads the way for con­struc­tion of the first au­ton­o­mous ves­sel in the world.

Yara Birke­land is the name of the ship and it’s not just au­ton­o­mous; it also has zero emis­sion made pos­si­ble through its elec­tric drive, bat­tery and propul­sion con­trol sys­tems. On 28 Septem­ber 2017, the fi­nal de­sign of Yara Birke­land was re­vealed and tested at SINTEF Ocean and now the build­ing pe­riod starts. The ves­sel will be de­liv­ered and be­gin first tests in 2019. By 2020 the first fully au­ton­o­mous op­er­a­tions are sched­uled to be con­ducted in Nor­way, its route lead­ing from Herøya to Larvik via Bre­vik.

"To suc­ceed with a project like this we rely on col­lab­o­ra­tion with lead­ing mar­itime com­pe­tence hubs and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, like Kongs­berg on au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy, Marin Teknikk on ship de­sign and SINTEF for test­ing of the model. It was a spe­cial mo­ment when we were joined by our part­ners in Trond­heim to­day to wit­ness the de­sign and demon­stra­tion of a minia­ture Yara Birke­land for the first time,” says Pres­i­dent and CEO of Yara, Mr Svein Tore Holsether.

Once fin­ished the ves­sel will en­able a re­duc­tion of 40,000 round trips a year from Yara's Pors­grunn fer­tiliser plant in south­ern Nor­way to the ports of Bre­vik and Larvik, re­duc­ing lo­cal NOx and CO2 emis­sions pro­duced by trucks ac­cord­ing to Kongs­berg. "Green ship­ping is an area where Nor­way can make a global dif­fer­ence for cli­mate and the en­vi­ron­ment, and where the Nor­we­gian mar­itime clus­ter can take new in­ter­na­tional po­si­tions,” says Mr Geir Håøy, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Kongs­berg.

“Load­ing and dis­charg­ing will be done au­to­mat­i­cally us­ing elec­tric cranes and equip­ment. 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,” states Kongs­berg.

Mr Es­ben Tu­man, Head of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Yara adds: “Yara’s main con­tri­bu­tion to the world is to de­liver crop nu­tri­tion to in­crease food pro­duc­tion. In Pors­grunn, Nor­way we ship about 100 con­tain­ers with fer­til­izer ev­ery day by truck to re­gional ship­ping hubs in Larvik and Bre­vik. We con­tin­u­ously look for ways to re­duce our own emis­sions by adopting new and in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions in pro­duc­tion and trans­porta­tion, and last year we started look­ing into us­ing mar­itime trans­port as an al­ter­na­tive to these truck jour­neys through densely pop­u­lated ar­eas. We are proud to be a pioneer in the race to­wards cleaner and more ef­fi­cient com­mer­cial trans­porta­tion which will help the world de­liver on the cli­mate goals as set forth in the Paris agree­ment.”

In an in­ter­view with the Wall Street Jour­nal, the ex­ec­u­tives state that the ves­sel will cost USD 25 mil­lion, about three times as much as a con­ven­tional con­tainer ship of its size, but its op­er­a­tional costs are ex­pected to drop 90% with no fuel or crew. This ap­plies to smaller ships though and shorter routes.

For now, Mr Lars Jensen, chief ex­ec­u­tive of SeaIn­tel­li­gence Con­sult­ing ex­pects au­ton­o­mous ves­sels to be mainly of in­ter­est for short trips close to shore. “It’s not a mat­ter of tech­nol­ogy, which is al­ready there, but a busi­ness case.

Au­ton­o­mous ships are ex­pen­sive to be­gin with, and have to be built very ro­bust, be­cause if they break down, the cost of get­ting a team to fix them it in the mid­dle of the ocean will be very high,” states Mr Jensen to the Wall Street Jour­nal.

Yara and Kongs­berg are not the only ones de­vel­op­ing au­ton­o­mous ves­sels. Rolls-Royce is de­vel­op­ing a naval ship pow­ered by so­lar en­ergy and in 2016 the US mil­i­tary re­vealed a war­ship that can op­er­ate on its own for months at a time.

In an­other area closely re­lated to ship­ping, sev­eral other ac­tors are de­vel­op­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles also. Uber, Tesla and Google all have a stake in mak­ing suc­cess­ful au­ton­o­mous trucks or cars.

Google is well-known for its self­driv­ing cars through sis­ter com­pany Waymo and now is also look­ing at trucks Wired re­ported. Uber was mak­ing au­ton­o­mous trucks, but they just piv­oted to trucks with au­topi­lot to lessen the bur­den for driv­ers ac­cord­ing to TechCrunch. Au­topi­lot means the trucks don’t re­quire au­ton­o­mous li­cenc­ing from the Amer­i­can Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles.

Tesla on the other hand is just ven­tur­ing into au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles with re­ports by Reuters about re­quest­ing a test­ing li­cence for from the state of Nevada for a “long-haul, elec­tric semitruck that can drive it­self and move in “pla­toons” that au­to­mat­i­cally fol­low a lead ve­hi­cle.”

One of the rea­sons all these tech com­pa­nies are look­ing into trans­porta­tion, are the prob­lems the in­dus­try faces. The in­dus­try has suf­fered for a long time from the dif­fi­culty of find­ing enough driv­ers for the soli­tary job. At the same time e-com­merce has in­creased the de­mand for de­liv­er­ies.

On top of that, the United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency es­ti­mates that 27 per­cent of green­house gas emis­sions in the United States stems from the trans­porta­tion sec­tor. To sum it up; the sec­tor is right for dis­rup­tion.

So on land and on sea there is a race go­ing on to pro­duce the first au­ton­o­mous truck and ves­sel ready for de­ploy­ment. But both sec­tors also face some is­sues at this time. First of all, there is the per­ceived sense of safety by the gen­eral public. The idea of a mas­sive ve­hi­cle driv­ing or sail­ing with­out hu­mans on board can be a scary thought.

Also ques­tions about the safety of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles re­main. ENOVA con­trib­uted NOK 134 mil­lion to Yara Birke­land. ENOVA is a Nor­we­gian gov­ern­ment en­ter­prise pro­mot­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly pro­duc­tion and en­ergy con­sump­tion. "The in­ter­est in au­ton­o­mous trans­port is great, but at the same time, many are scep­ti­cal [sic] and ques­tion the safety. The key con­tri­bu­tion from this project is to demon­strate that au­ton­o­mous and elec­tric sea trans­port is fea­si­ble, and will de­liver the re­sults we want, "states Mr Nils Kris­tian Nak­stad, CEO of ENOVA ac­cord­ing to Yara.

An­other is­sue fac­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles is the reg­u­la­tory gap. Au­ton­o­mous ship­ping cur­rently be­ing lim­ited to short dis­tances comes partly be­cause of the need for clear reg­u­la­tions. The In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion doesn’t ex­pect leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing crew­less ships to be in place be­fore 2020 the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ports. “Once the reg­u­la­tion is in place, I can see this spread­ing fast. There is a lot of in­ter­est from op­er­a­tors of coastal tankers, fish-trans­port ves­sels and sup­ply ships that are knock­ing on our door,” says Mr Håøy.

Kongs­berg is also de­vel­op­ing an au­ton­o­mous off­shore ser­vice ves­sel and re­cently an­nounced a new project de­vel­op­ing zero emis­sion, full-elec­tric, au­ton­o­mous ferry con­cepts with PI­LOT-E, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Nor­we­gian Re­search Coun­cil, In­no­vasjon Norge and ENOVA.

With au­ton­o­mous driv­ing fever spread­ing from pri­vately owned com­pa­nies to public ser­vices and both span­ning the land and sea, the ques­tion re­mains if leg­is­la­tion will be sorted in time for com­pa­nies to reap the ben­e­fits of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles be­fore the high de­vel­op­men­tal cost jeop­ar­dizes the sur­vival of the com­pany. The com­pany get­ting the equa­tion right be­tween leg­is­la­tion on the one hand and tech­nol­ogy on the other, will win the race in the end.


Above left: Yara Birke­land, the first au­ton­o­mous and elec­tric ves­sel shown in var­i­ous stages of trans­port. Above: Part­ners and me­dia present for Yara Birke­land test model launch at Sintef sea lab­o­ra­tory.


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