The world’s first zero-emission autonomous container ship

The Norwegian fertiliser company Yara is building an autonomous container ship. The zero-emissions vessel could set the standard for future short sea shipping.

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Around 90 per cent of the world’s traded goods are transported by sea, according to the OECD. At the same time, CO₂ emissions from international shipping are huge – higher than the combined CO₂ emissions from entire countries such as the UK.

In Europe, almost 60 per cent of international shipping is along short routes. And the EU’s “Motorways of the Sea” initiative aims to move even more cargo transport from road to sea, creating sustainable and efficient supply chains.

To achieve this while minimising climate impact, a profitable, low-emissions fleet of vessels is needed.

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Game changing autonomous container ship

In the lowland fjords of Eastern Norway, the autonomous vessel Yara Birkeland is being built. Once completed, the electric ship will transport fertiliser from Yara’s factory at Herøya to the ports at Breivik and Larvik.

Holding 100 to 150 shipping containers, Yara Birkeland will transfer to autonomous operations in stages. The initial launch will be with an onboard crew, before moving to a remote crew and finally to full autonomy after a couple of years. The ship will navigate the fjords and ocean using GPS, radar, cameras and sensors delivered by the Norwegian technology company KONGSBERG, and will be able to dock at port without assistance.

Yara’s initiative is taking place at the same time as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is looking at the regulation of autonomous ships. The IMO's scoping exercise is expected to be completed in 2020.

Concrete benefits

Yara Birkeland is electric and autonomous. With no need for fuel or a crew, the ship will save up to 90 per cent in annual operating costs compared similar-sized conventional vessels. It is also estimated to replace 40 000 truck journeys per year, cutting local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions accordingly.

Market potential

Short sea shipping is a key priority across Europe and the need for sustainable cargo ships is huge. All over the world, shipping companies are looking to cut costs and emissions.

Yara Birkeland has received tremendous attention from businesses, academia and media, with the Wall Street Journal referring to it as “The Tesla of the Seas”. Although the vessel has been built, installation of the autonomous equipment from KONGSBERG has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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At a glance

  • Small container ship with autonomous controls

  • Zero emissions from electric-only sea transport

  • Pilot project for transport from factory to port


Under development
The solution is a concept, prototype, close to piloting, or the like.

Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals