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The future of transport: autonomous ships and sustainability

Once the maritime industry has come to grips  with the practical, legal and economic considerations, ships and ports will be ready to operate without human involvement. Increasingly, sensors and AI systems are navigating and controlling ships that will interact with each other over time. Last January, the Japanese car ferry “Soleil” became the first large ship to automatically berth, unberth, turn around and sail for 240 km without human intervention. And in 2024, the Norwegian container ship “Yara Birkeland” will autonomously transport fertiliser from factory to port while maintaining zero greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Alisyn Malek, an urban mobility expert, one of the most important future transport features will be its sustainability. Short-distance microcars, autonomous vehicles and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will become popular. Supersonic passenger aircraft will return to service, especially if they run on zero net carbon emission fuels.

However,  the transition to sustainable aviation fuels will not be easy. According to the British Royal Society, there is currently no alternative to conventional fuel. Producing enough green fuel to supply the UK aerospace industry would require using half of the UK’s agricultural land. Another option is hydrogen fuel. However, the UK does not currently have enough renewable electricity to produce enough green hydrogen.

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