Autonomous electric ship set to accept containers

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

The world’s first autonomous and fully electric container ship will soon commence commercial operations.

The Yara Birkeland has completed its maiden voyage to Oslo in mid-November and then sailed on to Porsgrunn, the southern Norwegian production site of Yara International, a fertilizer manufacturer and the vessel owner.

The ship will operate for a two-year test period, then begin full autonomous operation on a route off the coast of Norway.

A 6.7 MWh battery system (which represents the same energy as 130 Tesla Model 3 batteries) powers propulsion for the approximately 80-metre long and 15-metre wide container ship with a deadweight of 3,120 tonnes or 120 standard containers (TEU). This electrically powered “green vessel” will operate at a service speed of approximately six knots, with a maximum speed of 13 knots.

“Yara is constantly seeking opportunities to reduce its climate footprint and fulfill its main vision to responsibly feed the world. A zero-emission vessel to bring our product from production and out to the markets show that it is possible to make a positive contribution to the required change in the release of climate gases,” said Jon Sletten, project owner, Yara Birkeland.

“A saying from one of Yara’s founders back in early 19th century is ‘where there is a will, there is a way’. Battery technology from Leclanché provides us with a battery driven vessel charged with electricity from the green hydroelectric power. This is a willful step in a green direction and an encouragement for others to also invest in future technologies.”

“We are very proud to be able to contribute to the success of this unique project. With our battery system for the Yara Birkeland, Leclanché contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 40,000 container truck road journeys per year, not to mention road safety improvements, noise pollution reduction and increased logistics efficiencies,” said Anil Srivastava, chief executive officer of battery manufacturer Leclanché.

“The annual operating cost savings in both fuel and crew, estimated at up to 90 percent, makes autonomous and battery powered ships viable in international trade. Combined with new emerging technologies and the integration of alternative green fuels, including clean hydrogen, we will continue opening new possibilities for our customers, the industry and the planet.”

Lithium-ion battery system

The battery system of the Yara Birkeland, manufactured in Switzerland, is fitted with lithium-ion cells which are produced at Leclanché’s automated production facility in Willstätt, Germany and battery modules made in Switzerland. The system has built-in redundancy, with eight separate battery rooms: if multiple strings are emptied or stop working, the vessel can continue its operations.

When it comes to battery systems for marine applications, efficient protection against overheating is indispensable. To prevent a fire on the open sea, Leclanché specially developed the modular DNV-GL certified MRS. Each battery string contains gas and smoke detectors, redundant thermal monitoring and a cooling system to prevent overheating and thermal incidents. Should a thermal incident occur despite all this, the Fifi4Marine fire extinguishing system kicks in: based on environmentally friendly foam, it cools and extinguishes quickly and effectively.

Zero emissions

Once the test period is completed, the Yara Birkeland will navigate on a completely autonomous basis transporting containers products from Yara International’s production plant in Herøya to the port of Brevik.

Yara International is pursuing a zero-emission strategy with the all-electric drive solution: the vessel’s operation will displace around 40,000 truck journeys per year and the associated NOx and CO2 emissions. It also reduces noise and air pollution while in port. The batteries are charged automatically with electricity from renewable sources.

“Leclanché’s marine rack system provides 30 percent higher energy density and up to a 230 percent greater life cycle than competitive systems – in addition to its reputation for having the safest battery system design,” said Guillaume Clement, VP e-Marine, Leclanché. “Thanks to Yara, the maritime industry has entered a new era where sustainable shipping is demonstrated as a viable solution for a very large range of ships and businesses.”