Yara Birkeland zero emission ship

Claiming a new concept for shortsea shipping, FleetZero, says it offers an alternative to the Yara Birkeland model of coastal shipping, and could provide the way in for automated and/or all-electric vessels.

Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container vessel with zero emissions, aiming to reduce diesel-powered truck haulage by 40,000 journeys a year.

With almost no moving parts, electric propulsion does not require the same degree of supervision as a conventional diesel or diesel-electric drivetrain, as well as being much smaller and lighter.

The Yara Birkeland, while benefiting from its electric power, is also in the process of whittling down its crew, ultimately to zero, while operating a completely emission-free coastal service and recharging at ports in-between.

“We are now entering into a test period with crew on board,” Yara spokesperson Amanda Gran told The Loadstar. “We expect that this will last about two years.”

Yara Birkeland offers an insight into how automated ships could operate in international waters, but also into the design benefits of battery-powered electric vessels. Currently, the main concern is the amount of cargo space that would need to be given over to batteries – making a deepsea containership impossible, as the necessary battery space would be almost the same size as the vessel itself.

However, that may be about to change, claims FleetZero, which is pioneering a containerised battery system and says it can solve this problem, in effect, by not solving it.

Instead, the design uses much smaller vessels of around 4-6,000teu, with a certain portion of container space given over to hot-swappable batteries. These would be charged on land and swapped at port using conventional cranes, eliminating the need for costly and complex shore-charging facilities.

Though it would entail a decreased cargo load, the company insists the economics of this will be justified in coastal shipping, compared with use of green-ammonia or green-methanol.

As well as offering cheap energy there is also the possibility of using cut-price retrofits of existing hulls, making for a smaller capital expenditure partially offsetting lost revenues from a reduced cargo load and greater flexibility in terms of port calls.

In a recent article, FleetZero’s founders also outlined the unique commercial benefits of operating within the US’ Jones Act market, where thanks to the high cost of building and crewing vessels, many small-scale shipping business models are prohibitively expensive, leaving trucking to pick up the slack.

“We can have a route between, say, Long Beach and Portland, on a ship, and effectively take thousands of trucks off the road,” says Henderson. “And it’s a cheaper service. Over-the-road shipping is quite a bit more expensive than ocean freight.”

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  • Asaf Ashar

    April 07, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    It should be a Ro/Ro system, based on domestic ports
    (see NPWI 2011 study on US coastal shipping)