Norway's impressive environmental advancements place it as a top contender for sustainable development in the world. From having a large portion of their electricity supplied from hydropower to stricter environmental regulations, the country has shown its dedication to sustainability and garnered a respectable reputation in the field.
One company located in Norway announced another remarkable advancement for the country to boast; the world's first crewless and zero-emissions cargo ship.
Water transportation has been around since the beginning of humankind. Today, this mode of travel has progressed to new highs as the desire for more goods and services has surged following the turn of the century.
Nevertheless, due to the increase in environmental awareness and profitable outcomes that arise due to the maritime industry, many companies in the field are working hard to lower their environmental footprint and make transportation greener. This can ultimately lead to an array of benefits for the sector.
A Welcoming Change
The Yara Birkeland, produced by Yara International, has announced the predicted launch toward the end of this year of the world's first fully electric autonomous ship in the world. The voyage will start in Herøya before it makes its way to Brevik.
First conceptualized in 2017, the cargo ship is powered by a 7-MWh battery and can carry up to 103 containers. According to Jon Sletten, a plant manager for a Yara International factory in Norway, the cargo ships will be "sailing to container harbors along the coast and then back again, replacing 40,000 truck journeys a year."
Though the ship will be loaded and unloaded by humans, during its voyage it will remain crewless and operated remotely via three data control centers. This can save money and time, and in some cases, even be safer.
This announcement comes just after a unanimous decision from Denmark, Norway, the USA, India, Morocco, France, Ghana, the U.K., and South Korea to lead a zero-emissions shipping mission. The partnership aims to increase technological advancement and international relations to convert shipping fleets to more sustainable alternatives.
Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, says that “Through fearless technological innovation, ambitious clean energy deployment, and constructive international collaboration, we can build a net-zero carbon economy that creates millions of jobs and lifts our citizens into greater prosperity.”
To date, specific details about how the ship was constructed or the materials used have not been released yet. We can expect them to uphold strict environmental standards. That said, after the predicted successful voyage, the potential for this technology to be implemented throughout the industry can create a significant impact in lowering atmospheric emissions and waste.
The Transportation Industry
As society has remained at an upward trend of growth, the desire for more goods has expanded. Data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis also estimates that personal disposable income has risen from $2,000 in the 1960s to nearly $15,000 as of 2020. The uptick in demand from the consumer side, coupled with the means to purchase more, has led to an increase in outsourced goods from international locations, thus, the need for more cargo ships.
One source estimates that "over 90% of world trade is carried across the world's oceans by some 90,000 marine vessels." The environmental footprint that results from these vast numbers contributes to atmospheric emissions, ocean acidification, and loss of marine life.
The overall US transportation sector accounts for roughly 30% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Though the industry is large and maritime isn't the only contributing factor, it does play a role in this outcome. Despite this, some benefits arise as a result of the shipping industry that makes it hard to scale down; an increase in jobs, international relations, accessibility, and economic stability.
Even though the industry has an impactful footprint, it is only expected to continue steadily in the future. Therefore, finding more sustainable alternatives can ultimately aid in the betterment of the environment. A maritime Professor at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Rudy Negenborn, predicts that autonomous transportation will take off significantly in the future and be a key factor in the next generation of transportation.
Negenborn also alludes to the potential obstacles that must be overcome with autonomous ships, such as self-diagnosis technology and legal liability for an overseas voyage.
The outcome in technological advancements that can arise from this voyage has the potential to impact an entire industry of transportation. Other shipping companies will most likely follow a similar path in order to meet demand and compete with Yara International. For now, this accomplishment is a welcomed one and a step in the right direction for the planet’s future.