Japanese partners to develop world’s first biomass-fuelled ship

Japanese shipping line Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) has signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Japanese leaders NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP), Tsuneishi Shipbuilding and British renewable energy business, Drax Group (Drax) to develop both the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship (bioship) and the technology that could power it.

Through the memorandum of understanding signed at the British Embassy in Tokyo, 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.

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

Biomass is playing a growing role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel power generation to low carbon and renewable electricity, and 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 and has a longstanding relationship with NBP which transports its pellets to Japan.

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

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. These gases would then be used to power a generator which could propel the bioship and also provide a proportion of its internal power, NYK explained.

“The 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,” NYK Line said in its release, adding that 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 that 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.

Paul Sheffield, Drax group’s chief commercial officer, commented that 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.