Yara Birkeland

Yara Birkeland, world’s 1st fully-electric boxship, prepares for commercial ops

Yara Birkeland, the world’s first autonomous and fully electric containership, will soon commence commercial operations while beginning a two-year test period, prior to entering full autonomous operation on a route off the coast of Norway.

Yara Birkeland
Image Courtesy: PRNewsfoto/Leclanché

The ship is fully powered by a Leclanché high-energy lithium-ion battery system.

The emission-free energy supply is provided by a 6.7 MWh battery system with integrated liquid cooling to ensure optimum operating temperature. The Leclanché Marine Rack System (MRS) ensures optimum temperature control of the cells and their permanently reliable operation over a service life of at least 10 years, according to Swiss energy storage solutions provider Leclanché SA.

In addition, the MRS is said to offer protection against overheating and an integrated fire protection system specifically designed and certified for maritime requirements.

The Yara Birkeland has completed its maiden voyage to Oslo in mid-November and then sailed on to Porsgrunn, the southern Norwegian production site of Yara International, a fertiliser manufacturer and the vessel owner.

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Leclanché supplied the 6.7 MWh battery system for the energy supply of the approximately 80 meters long and 15 meters wide containership with a deadweight of 3,120 tonnes or 120 standard containers (TEU).

This electrically powered “green vessel” will operate at a service speed of approximately 6 knots, with a maximum speed of 13 knots.

“Embarking on a technically challenging project as Yara Birkeland together with our technology partner Kongsberg Maritime is, as such, a small endeavour in the large challenge we as one out of many industrial players are embarking on,”  Jon Sletten, project owner, Yara Birkeland, said.

“A zero-emission vessel to bring our product from production and out to the markets show that it is possible to make a positive contribution to the required change in the release of climate gases. A saying from one of Yara’s founders back in early 19th century is ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.”

“Battery technology from Leclanché provides us with a battery driven vessel charged with electricity from the green hydroelectric power. This is a willful step in a green direction and an encouragement for others to also invest in future technologies,” Sletten added.

“We are very proud to be able to contribute to the success of this … project. With our battery system for the Yara Birkeland, Leclanche contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 40.000 container truck road journeys per year, not to mention road safety improvements, noise pollution reduction and increased logistics efficiencies,” Anil Srivastava, chief executive officer of Leclanché, said.

“The annual operating cost savings in both fuel and crew, estimated at up to 90%, makes autonomous and battery powered ships viable in international trade.”

Lithium-ion battery system

The battery system of the Yara Birkeland, manufactured in Switzerland, is fitted with lithium-ion cells which are produced at Leclanché’s automated production facility in Willstätt, Germany and battery modules made in Switzerland.

Image Courtesy: Leclanché

The high energy density cells combined with long life cycle of 8,000 @ 80% DoD, with operating temperature ranges from -20 to +55°C, are at the core of the battery system. This Leclanché Marine Rack System consists of 20 strings with 51 modules of 32 cells each, for a total of 32,640 cells.

The battery system has built-in redundancy, with eight separate battery rooms: if multiple strings are emptied or stop working, the vessel can continue its operations. When it comes to battery systems for marine applications, efficient protection against overheating is indispensable. To prevent a fire on the open sea, Leclanché developed the modular DNV-GL certified MRS.

Each battery string contains gas and smoke detectors, redundant thermal monitoring and a cooling system to prevent overheating and thermal incidents. Should a thermal incident occur despite all this, the Fifi4Marine fire extinguishing system kicks in — based on environmentally friendly foam, it cools and extinguishes quickly and effectively.

Zero emissions thanks to battery drive

Once the test period is completed, the Yara Birkeland will navigate on a completely autonomous basis transporting containers products from Yara International’s production plant in Herøya to the port of Brevik.

Yara International is pursuing a zero-emission strategy with the all-electric drive solution: the vessel’s operation will displace around 40,000 truck journeys per year and the associated NOx and CO2 emissions.

It also reduces noise and air pollution while in port. The batteries are charged automatically with electricity from renewable sources.

“Leclanché’s marine rack system provides 30% higher energy density and up to a 230% greater life cycle than competitive systems,” Guillaume Clement, VP e-Marine, Leclanché, said.

“Thanks to Yara, the maritime industry has entered a new era where sustainable shipping is demonstrated as a viable solution for a very large range of ships and businesses.”

The company has already delivered battery systems for multiple ships with electric or hybrid propulsion systems and received orders for more of these systems. Among the projects successfully completed is Ellen, a passenger and vehicle ferry that has been operating in the Danish Baltic Sea since 2019 and is the longest range, all-electric ferry in daily operation.