Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO is investing in one of
the most remarkable vessel projects of the decade. With help from the Kongsberg
/ Wilhelmsen joint venture Massterly, ASKO is ordering two fully autonomous,
electrically powered freight ferries for a route across the Oslofjord. By
creating a new private ferry service, ASKO will save the fuel, pollution and
man-hours needed to drive freight trailers on a circuitous route between two of
its facilities. In addition, the groundbreaking investment will demonstrate the
integration of multiple automated systems in one unified platform, taking
trailers from one staging area to another with minimal human input.
The Maritime Executive recently caught up with three experts
from Kongsberg to discuss this project, including An-Magritt Ryste, Product
Director, Next Generation Shipping; Pål Andersen, Technical Director Autonomy,
Integrated Solutions / Emerging Projects; and Lars Kristian Moen, Sales
Director, Advanced Maneuvering and Autonomy.
TME: Can you tell us a bit more about the route for the new
ASKO ferry? Its marine traffic patterns, prevailing currents, etc.?
LKM: The ASKO vessels will operate between Horten and Moss,
a distance of about five nm with a transit time of approximately one hour.
There is significant commercial traffic to and from Oslo, Drammen and other
ports, and lots of leisure boats, especially in summertime. The ASKO schedules
will be coordinated with the VTS operation in Horten. There are no special
current / tidal effects, although there may be some extreme seasonal situations
where the vessel might not be able to operate.
TME: What terminal facilities are required at each end?
PA: At each end, the facilities supporting autonomous
operation will include automatic mooring systems, automatic loading ramps and
automatic electrical charging systems. Additionally, facilities for autonomous
trailer movements will be installed.
TME: Is the grid infrastructure for vessel charging
substantially in place, or is transmission / utility work part of the buildout
LKM: The grid supply is sufficient, but energy storage
systems are being considered due to fluctuations in the price of electricity
during the day. By using energy storage, electricity can be bought and stored
when it is cheaper – at night, for example – thereby reducing costs.
TME: Like Yara’s Yara Birkeland, these new vessels will be
used for the shipowner’s own freight. Does this kind of operation serve as a
good starting point for introducing autonomy? With fixed cargoes, fixed routes
and one stakeholder?
A-MR: There are several benefits with these cases, making
them ideal as pioneering projects. Firstly, keeping within national waters is a
great advantage. There is a lot of goodwill required from several parties –
such as the flag state, coastal administrators, other legislators, owners,
classification societies and the government – to make these projects a reality.
Secondly, fixed routes yield benefits such as control of
necessary infrastructure at either end, and the ability to optimize both the
battery dimensions and the hull design, accommodating the cargo need whilst
delivering optimal fuel consumption. These operational areas are well known
when it comes to sea conditions and expected traffic patterns, parameters
greatly contributing to increasing the efficiency of simulators during
development efforts and for acceptance of new technology.
TME: ASKO has been investing heavily in decarbonizing its
trucking operations, but this is its first foray into zero-emissions shipping.
Do Kongsberg / Massterly foresee similar projects for other nontraditional
shipowners in the near future?
A-MR: We have seen a tremendous increase in interest since
the announcement of Yara Birkeland back in 2017. Prior to this, there was a lot
of talk about autonomous vessels – now we see contracts being signed in all the
major maritime hubs across the globe.
Where traditional shipowners tend to take a more incremental
approach, non-traditional shipowners are either interested in a highly digital
offering or go directly towards autonomous operation. Also worth noting is the
increasing trend towards automating a larger part of the entire logistical
chain, where the vessel constitutes a small part. In a few years, we will see
more efforts towards realising smart ports and requests focused on the entire
TME: Should first movers in this space expect a solid return
on investment on their first projects? Or are the benefits primarily in
reducing CO2 emissions, R&D, building operating experience, etc.?
PA: As with other technologies, the first movers do not
necessarily achieve solid ROI, but a significant reduction of CO2 emissions is
achieved. ASKO is also investing in electrical trucks for the transport between
the ports and their large distribution facilities.
LKM: Like many new technologies, volume brings better cost
savings and return on capital investment, so purely financial benefits will
follow as the number of autonomous ships increases and the concept is expanded
to new regions and routes. However, there are a number of other driving
factors, many of which may also deliver cost savings. Road transport regularity
is not satisfactory, and can lead to costly delays. As regulations tighten, we
are likely to see CO2 emission costs increase. And – harder to quantify –
companies adopting these kind of technologies earn a reputation as innovators,
boosting their green credentials and attracting positive media exposure.