Companies join forces to develop world’s first biomass-fuelled ship

Energy business Drax has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a trio of Japanese businesses to develop both the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship (bioship) and the technology which could power it.

North Yorkshire-based Drax is teaming up with NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP) and TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING.

Biomass is playing a growing role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel power generation to low carbon and renewable electricity.

The country’s demand for biomass pellets, sourced primarily from North America and composed of sawmill and forestry residues, is increasing.

Drax produces biomass pellets in both the US South and Canada. The company has a longstanding relationship with NBP which transports its pellets to Japan.

These pellets are currently shipped through smaller bulker vessels, which, due to the limited size of their fuel tanks, have proved challenging to switch to lower emission fuels, such as ammonia.

Through the MoU, the companies will initially conduct research to develop the new shipping technology – an on-board biomass fuel plant, which would be required to power a bioship.

All four companies are exploring how other renewable technologies could be used to reduce both the emissions and fuel costs of shipping biomass.

The biomass fuel plant would use a gasifier to combust biomass at high temperatures and create and contain gases including carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and methane.

Gases would then be used to power a generator which could propel the bioship and also provide a proportion of its internal power.

Installation of a biomass fuel plant could see a 22% reduction in well-to-wake carbon emissions in bioships when compared to using fossil fuels.

If this development is successful, the companies will jointly study the possibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

Shinichi Yanagisawa, executive officer of NYK Line, said: “This initiative is part of NYK’s long-term target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050 for the NYK Group’s oceangoing businesses.

“The NYK Group is committed to providing its expertise in low-carbon and decarbonised maritime transportation as per this MoU and will use the knowledge gained in this research and development to promote initiatives related to various energy-saving technologies.”

Paul Sheffield, Drax chief commercial officer, said: “Drax aims to be carbon negative by 2030 and decarbonising our supply chain is critical to reaching this goal.

“This MoU is an important step in the development of the technology required to power and launch the world’s first bioship, which will support Drax’s decarbonisation goals but could also drive the innovation needed to transform shipping and cut carbon emissions and fuel costs in global supply chains.”

Masashi Suda, NBP’s president, said: “We are honoured to be a part of this project to use Drax’s main products as environmentally friendly fuel in transportation of the products themselves.

“After study of biomass fuel plant and gasifier system, Drax, TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING, NYK and NBP have concluded a memorandum of understanding for the feasibility study on the development of the world’s first wood pellets-powered Super Low-Emission Vessel.

“This is an important step towards a decarbonised society for all concerned parties.”

Kenichi Shibata, managing executive officer of TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING, added: “We focus on reducing the global environmental impact in the design and construction of our vessels and aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We are pushing to develop and construct new vessels which combine environmental impact reduction with economic efficiency.

“We are very proud to be involved in this project, which aims to achieve the world’s first maritime transport using wood biomass energy, in collaboration with NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers and Drax Group.”