The world’s first fully automated, zero-emission container ship arrives

The highly anticipated YARA BIRKELAND, the world’s first 120 TEU unmanned, purely electric propulsion container ship, will begin its maiden voyage at the end of 2021. Her biggest highlight is the pure electric power and the future implementation of driverless technology, which will ensure the energy saving and emission reduction of the ship while using the GPS, LIDAR, AIS, cameras and sensors installed on the ship to achieve automatic loading, self-departure, autonomous navigation in the channel and automatic avoidance, self-berthing and automatic discharge when reaching the end of the line. Let’s review its construction process together.

I. Construction background

Norwegian fertilizer giant Yara International (YARA) is a multinational company and one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers, producing and selling fertilizers in more than 50 countries and regions around the world, providing food for more than 300 million people worldwide, with an annual turnover of NOK 62 billion (NOK 1 is approximately RMB 0.75). The company’s corporate philosophy is to do its part to feed the world and protect the planet. Yara has a fertilizer production plant in Polesgren, Norway, but it must be transported by truck to the deep-sea ports of Larvik (7 n miles) and Brevik (30 n miles) before it can be loaded onto ships and shipped to countries such as China in Asia and Brazil in South America, as shown in Figure 2. Approximately 40,000 trips per year are made by diesel-powered trucks for overland fertilizer transportation between Polsgren and the ports of Ravik or Brevik, which may cause traffic congestion or accidents on urban roads, in addition to generating a lot of exhaust pollution in densely populated areas that is harmful to the health of residents.

KONGSBERG GRUPPEN (KONGSBERG GRUPPEN) is a large multinational company headquartered in Norway, one of Norway’s leading technology companies and a global leader in maritime technology, founded in 1814, with a focus on the oil and gas industry, the offshore shipping industry, the military defense, renewable energy and power supply. Military defense, renewable energy and power supply industry, aviation industry and other fields of high-tech systems and solutions, in the Internet of Things, intelligent data, artificial intelligence, maritime simulation, automation and autonomous operations and other areas of leadership, in 30 countries and regions around the world with nearly 50 branches, with about 10 000 employees. In the maritime sector, Kongsberg delivered the world’s first computerized radar system to a cargo ship in 1969. This radar system has an automatic mapping function that calculates the course, speed, point of closest encounter and time of the vessel being tracked and thus assesses whether there is a risk of collision. Since 1977, several more maritime technology innovations have been delivered, including the first dynamic positioning system delivered in 1977 and the first unmanned underwater submersible in 1996 ……

When Yara proposed to build a small, fully automated, zero-pollution container ship for fertilizer transportation from the fertilizer plant to the port, it was a particularly good match for Kongsberg, which specializes in this field and has decades of experience and a track record of innovation in unmanned submersibles, unmanned surface vessels and marine robotics, and the two companies hit it off.

Signing of the Yara Birkeland construction agreement

On May 9, 2017, Yara and Kongsberg announced that they would jointly build the Yara Birkeland, the world’s first fully electrically propelled, autonomous container ship with zero emissions. The vessel is initially planned to operate as a manned vessel later in the second half of 2018, moving to remote control in 2019 and capable of performing fully autonomous sailing and maneuvering starting in 2020. In addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems, Kongsberg is responsible for the development and delivery of all key technologies for the container ship, including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous maneuvering.

On September 28, 2017, the Norwegian state-owned oil and energy company decided to provide NOK 133.6 million in financial support for the construction of the Yara Birkeland.

On August 15, 2018, Kongsberg announced at the Norwegian special ship designer and builder’s Brevik shipyard that Yara, the world’s largest fertilizer manufacturer, has signed a NOK 250 million construction contract with the shipyard. Construction of the Yara Birkeland will begin shortly after the contract is signed. The construction of the hull will be carried out by the Romanian shipyard and the final delivery will be made by Revik Shipyard in the first quarter of 2020. The contract signing ceremony was attended by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Ms. Erna Solberg. The Prime Minister addressed the signing ceremony: “This is a good example of Norwegian companies working together to create new solutions and green engineering. Yara, Kongsberg and the Norwegian special ship designer and builder are working together to realize the vision of creating sustainable innovations based on their respective knowledge in technology, logistics and shipbuilding. This project will lead to many more exciting pioneering projects like this one. I am proud of the Norwegian government’s financial support for the development of the ‘Yara Birkeland’ through the Norwegian state-owned oil and energy enterprise, and I wish the shipbuilding project a successful and successful completion.”

Name of the ship, ship scale and main equipment

“The Yara Birkeland was once called the “Tesla of the Seas” by industry insiders, after the “YARA” in the Yara International group. In 1896, Kristian Birkeland, a Norwegian scientist, suggested that auroras are produced when the Earth’s magnetic field directs electrically charged particles from the Sun to the North and South poles. This was certainly a breakthrough for the modern theory of aurora) was put together and named “YARA BIRKELAND”. The ship is 79.5 m long, 14.8 m wide, 12 m deep, 6 m full load draught, 3 m empty load draught, and can carry 120 TEU, 3,200 DWT. The normal speed of the ship is only 6 kn, and the maximum speed is 13 kn, which is much lower than the general container ships. The ship is designed as an unmanned vessel without traditional crew living quarters and a steering room, but is currently designed to be manned by the ship’s crew or for emergency maneuvers, with a steering room. Remote control will then be realized, and finally a gradual transition to fully autonomous operation will be made. The ship’s engine room has been replaced by eight battery compartments with a capacity of 6.8 MVh to provide the power required for the voyage and to have a surplus.

BRUNVOLL, Norway, supplied two 900 kW pod thrusters and two 700 kW bow tunnel side thrusters to ensure that the vessel can parallel berth or berth without the assistance of a tug. Le Clonchet of Switzerland, as its battery partner and supplier of customized ship energy storage solutions. Mäkija, Finland, for an automatic mooring system that enables mooring and unmooring of the vessel without human intervention. Kalmar of Finland provides solutions and services for cargo handling in ports, terminals and warehouses, including all key technologies and control systems required for automated fertilizer loading into containers, container handling and loading and unloading equipment. COSCO Shipping’s “Da Ji” ship transported the fully automated rail crane, the core equipment of the “unmanned container ship” project.

Progress of the Yara Birkeland project

After the announcement of the Yara Birkeland in May 2017, the Norwegian design and engineering company Marin Teknikk started the design. The first step was to design and build a model vessel for the Yara Birkeland, which is 6 m in length and weighs 2.4 t. Tests on the vessel began on September 29, 2021 in a pool at the Norwegian Institute of Technology and Industry (NIST).

On April 7, 2018, Norwegian shipping giant Welsen Group and Kongsberg announced the establishment of Massterly, the world’s first unmanned vessel shipping company, through which they plan to provide a complete value chain of services for the Yara Birkeland. The new company will provide a complete value chain for the Yara Birkeland, covering design, development, control systems, logistics services and ship operations. The new company will establish a land-based control center to monitor and operate unmanned vessels in Norway and other countries.

On August 15, 2018, the world’s first zero-emission fully automated container ship, the Yara Birkeland, entered the construction phase for delivery in the first quarter of 2020.

In February 2020, the hull of the Yara Birkeland was completed at the shipyard in Romania. Due to the more complex design and equipment arrangement than expected, the vessel was towed to the Norwegian shipyard in Revik in May for the next stage of outfitting, installation of various control and navigation systems and various tests prior to delivery, see Figure 8.

“The hull of the Yara Birkeland was towed from Romania to the Norwegian shipyard in Revik.

In June 2020, due to the impact of the New Crown Pneumonia outbreak and the changing global outlook, Yara had announced the suspension of the Yara Birkeland development project and decided to work with its partners to assess the next steps. Soon after, Yara and Kongsberg began development of the Yara Birkeland again. As a transitional solution, a simple pilothouse was installed on the bow of the Yara Birkeland for manual or interventional, emergency maneuvers if necessary, and was handed over to Yara on November 24, 2020. Yara’s department head said that the cockpit now in sight is a temporary arrangement that will be removed when all work on board is completed; further development of the Yara Birkeland’s various projects will see Kongsberg implementing various autonomous functions, followed by commercial and traffic testing of the ship, which will begin sometime in 2021 – and possibly before the end of the year. -and may begin operations before the end of the year.

“The Yara Birkeland undergoes extensive traffic testing and equipment adjustments before embarking on its maiden voyage to the Norwegian capital Oslo on November 19, 2021. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Minister of Fisheries and Marine Policy Bjørnar Skelland visited the Yara Birkeland. Yara CEO Holcet said that a two-year testing period will now begin for the technology that will eventually allow the ship to sail autonomously and eventually be certified as an autonomous, fully electric container ship.

The Norwegian Offshore Authority’s vessel traffic management system in Brevik harbor covers the entire normal navigational waters of the Yara Birkeland. Yara has a dedicated Yara Birkeland Operations Control Center at its base in Polsgren, Kongsberg, which handles vessel status monitoring, operational supervision, decision support, monitoring of the vessel and its surroundings, emergency and special situations, and all aspects related to safety.

The plan was repeatedly postponed due to the complexity of realizing automatic loading of ships, self-berthing, autonomous navigation in the channel and automatic avoidance of obstacles and ships, self-berthing and automatic discharge of cargo when arriving at the terminal. Nevertheless, after many twists and turns, the Yara Birkeland arrived.

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