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The YARA Birkeland project is important for the environment – replacing 40,000 lorries

Merete Østby, responsible for the IT land solution, and project manager Bjørn Tore Orvik, in front of the model of Yara Birkeland.

“The Yara Birkeland project supports the strong Norwegian maritime cluster, as a zero-emission project. Yet for neighbours to the industrial park, it’s probably just as important that the vessel replaces over 40,000 lorries which pollute the local environment with dust and noise, and present a safety risk,” says the man behind the now world-renowned YARA Birkeland project, Bjørn Tore Orviki Yara. 

He is not only project manager of the world's first commercial, autonomous, emission-free container vessel, but also the man behind the idea.

“Wild” idea

“It may have seemed to be a wild idea, but it's based on an earlier project, an ordinary feeder vessel for container freight between Herøya and Brevik/Larvik. I investigated whether it was possible to establish electrical operation, and then whether it could run itself,” says Orvik. 

He contacted the Kongsberg Group to hear their views of the idea, and after a few meetings, he brought the Kongsberg Group and Yara management together. Then the snowball started to pick up speed.

Test run in the second half of 2019

The project has started the initial preparatory work at Herøya, which includes the moving and demolition of the existing quay (Etasjelagerkai) before building a new one, already due for completion in 2019. Test running of the first containers on land is planned for the second half of 2019.

All operations, at land and sea, will be manual, before the autonomous functions gradually take over the manual operations after 2020. A two-year commissioning phase is planned before the full digital transport solution is in operation.

Major environmental improvements

Today, around 22,000 lorries with just as many containers annually drive from Yara Porsgrunn to Brevik and Larvik. Just as many lorries with empty containers make the return trip. Orvik describes how 1.5 lorries need as much energy to transport containers on this route as one single shipload with 120 containers on the YARA Birkeland!  

“The biggest improvements lie in moving the containers from lorry to ship, and the benefits are even greater if they are transported on an emission-free container vessel. People who live along heavily-trafficked roads will see improvements, in the form of reduced local emissions, less dust and noise, and especially improved road safety,” Orvik emphasises. 

Seamless, fully-digital solution

Yara Birkeland is a complex project that concerns the entire work process from filling the empty container with goods at Yara's warehouse on land, until the containers reach the quayside in Brevik and Larvik. 

“First, the empty container is picked up from the quayside by a straddle carrier, a portal truck which carries the container to the loading station. When the container has been filled manually and the container door has been locked, the straddle carrier transports the container to “Birkelandkaia” (Etasjelagerkai) in the industrial park. Here, it is lifted by crane on board the electrical container vessel Yara Birkeland, which transports the containers to Larvik and Brevik, without any crew on board,” says Orvik. 

IT land solution

Photo of Merete Østby, who heads the IT land solution sub-project.

“The operations on land are automated and controlled by operators using a handheld device such as an Ipad,” says Merete Østby, who heads the IT land solution sub-project. 

The onshore digital operations are organised in a separate project, the IT land solution, headed by Merete Østby in Yara. She describes how the new solutions include further development of Yara Porsgrunn’s own Production Support System. 

“We’re building on today's system and integrating this with the equipment supplier’s automation systems. This entails that the onshore operation, with the planning and moving of full and empty containers between Yara Birkeland and the loading stations, is automated and controlled by operators via a handheld device such as an Ipad,” says Østby.

Here, data is registered directly, and forwarded to the container lines and ports. Today, manual containers are used for these operations. 

Who gets the contracts?

Yara Birkeland is a collaboration project between Yara and the Kongsberg Group. The latter will develop and deliver all key technology on board the vessel, including sensors and control and communication systems. To optimise safety, all systems are duplicated.

There is a lot of excitement about who will get the contracts to deliver vessel, battery pack and land equipment.

“We’ve sent out enquiries, and we will soon be entering a period with contract negotiations with relevant suppliers,” says Bjørn Tore Orvik. He expects that the project can announce the main suppliers before the summer holidays.

Great expectations

photo of Bjørn Tore Orvik.

“This is a ‘once in a lifetime’ project, and there are great expectations of the project,” says Bjørn Tore Orvik. 

Bjørn Tore describes the Yara Birkeland project as a “once in a lifetime” project that fits the sustainability and digitisation bill. The project is known all over the world, with a Google search giving 120,000 hits, and there are stories of Japanese schoolchildren with Yara Birkeland stickers on their desks! 

“There are high expectations of the project, which naturally makes it extra exciting,” he says.

In September last year, Enova announced that they are supporting the project with NOK 133 million, and at the Enova conference in Trondheim in January, Orvik received the Enova award on behalf of the project. 

“This was naturally really great, but I think the award came a little early,” says Orvik, as a light-hearted reference to Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Facts about the project

  • The “Yara Birkeland” vessel is a collaboration project between Yara and the Kongsberg Group, and will be the world's first electrical and autonomous, zero-emission container vessel.
  • The vessel will carry fertiliser, initially packaged as calcium nitrate, from Yara's factory at Herøya to Brevik and Larvik.
  • The project has started the initial preparatory work at Herøya, which includes the moving and demolition of the existing quay before building a new one, already due for completion in 2019.
  • Test running of the first containers on land is planned for the second half of 2019. All operations, at land and sea, will be manual, before the autonomous functions gradually take over the manual operations after 2020. The vessel will be 80 metres long, with space for 120 containers, and will replace around 40,000 lorry trips to carry the containers.
  • The solution from sea to land will give significant energy savings, reduce noise, dust and CO2 and NOx emissions, and improve road safety.
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