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Global Supply Chain News: Swedish Chemicals Company Yara Plans to have Autonomous Container Ship Running by 2020


Ship will Also be Battery Powered, Take 40,000 Truck Deliveries off the Road

May 16, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

SCDigest has reported before on about research into container and bulk cargo ships that could be controlled on land by a computer program and a joy stick. (See Rolls-Royce Says Crewless, Remote Controlled Cargo and Container Ships will be Sailing by 2020.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Yara's twist is to not only develop autonomous ships that require no crew, but to make it a battery-powered vessel to reduce emissions.

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In that article from last year, we quoted Oskar Levander of Rolls-Royce's shipping division as saying that "This is happening. It's not if, it's when. The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist," Levander added. "We will see a remote-controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade."

Rolls-Royce's efforts are connected to something called the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN). The program is co-funded by the European Commissions and aims to develop and verify a concept for an autonomous ship, which is defined as a vessel primarily guided by automated on-board decision systems but controlled by a remote operator in a shore side control station.

Now, it appears a Swedish chemical company called Yara may beat big container carriers and ship-makers to the punch.

Yara is developing a battery-powered container ship it says will drive itself by 2020. Working with maritime technology provider Kongsberg, the company plans to introduce the Yara Birkeland as a manned ship next year before moving to remote operation a year later, then full autonomous automation in 2020, as you see in the video below. It looks as though it will be a relatively small vessel.

That would make the ship "the world's first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions," Yara says, adding that the ship would carry fertilizer from its production plant in Porsgrunn to other cities in Sweden, saving 40,000 trips taken by diesel trucks each year.


Sweden's Yara Shares Vision for First Fully Autonomous Container Ship


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"With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions," says Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of YARA.

On the autonomous side of things there are still plenty of pragmatic and regulatory hurdles to overcome before there are fully robotic ships crisscrossing the seas. Swedish neighbor Norway is at the forefront of working through these issues, with the Norwegian Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Coastal Administration last year signing an agreement designating the Trondheim fjord as the world's first test area specifically for autonomous ships.

Yara's twist is to not only develop autonomous ships that require no crew, but to make it a battery-powered vessel to reduce emissions. Details of exactly how that power system will work have yet to be provided, but we will note the Yara ship will be travelling relatively short distances, not making cross-ocean deliveries.

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

"By moving container transport from land to sea, YARA Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals," Geir Håøy, President and CEO of Kongsberg, said, adding that "The new concept is also a giant step forward towards increased seaborne transportation in general."

Will we see autonomous ships before cars or trucks? How soon will they be here? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback ection below.


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