Alessia Gaspodini
December 1, 2021

Yara Birkeland: the world's first electric container ship

“A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This assumes the average gasoline vehicle on the road today has a fuel economy of about 22.0 miles per gallon and drives around 11,500 miles per year. Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2.” - US Environmental Protection Agency

In 2020, due to the pandemic and the traffic stop, there was the largest annual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions since World War 2. In this respect, to tackle climate change, we often talk about electric vehicles, but did you know that in November the world's first electric container ship - Yara Birkeland - departed from Oslo?

- Zero emissions 
- Zero crew


The idea came from the Norwegian company Yara International in collaboration with Kongsberg Gruppen, an international technology group that supplies high-technology systems and solutions to customers in different fields.
Yara relies on a 7 MWh battery and it’s traveling autonomously from Herøya to Brevik, carrying 103 containers with a top speed of 15 MPH (but being monitored by several land-based control centers at the same time). If that works, this innovation will avoid approximately 40,000 diesel truck trips per year, making a significant contribution to cutting the maritime industry's carbon footprint. According to the European Commission, “maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions”.

Yara is therefore a first, encouraging step towards a future of electric, self-driving maritime transportation; however, the path is still long: there’s no infrastructure at ports to support electric boats, a huge number of raw materials is required to build such batteries, and there could be legal implications when crossing the border.


Once these challenges are faced, can autonomous ships help end maritime piracy? During pirate attacks in 2020, no crew officers were  killed, but nine were injured. Also, according to EUROPOL’s latest research, “the rise in maritime piracy has sent shipping costs soaring, as insurance rates and security and operating costs have sky-rocketed”. Piracy, therefore, continues to be an issue, but it’s not only related to robbed goods.




Overall, the future of shipping is uncertain, but  Yara Birkeland is demonstrating a first encouraging world-leading innovation to support the green transition in a hopefully low-emission society.  

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