Development of world’s 1st biomass-fueled ship underway

Japanese companies NYK Line (NYK), NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP), Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Co Ltd, and British renewable energy business Drax Group have signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop both the world’s first biomass-fueled ship (bioship) and the technology that could power it.

Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) was founded in 1885 and is one of the world’s leading transportation companies. At the end of March 2023, the NYK Group was operating 811 major ocean vessels, as well as fleets of planes and trucks.

“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 ocean-going businesses. The NYK Group is committed to providing its expertise in low-carbon and decarbonized maritime transportation per this MOU. It will utilize the knowledge gained in this research and development to promote initiatives related to various energy-saving technologies,” said Shinichi Yanagisawa, NYK Line executive officer.

As a member of the Nippon Yusen Group (NYK Group), NBP operates handy size/Handymax bulkers, conventional vessels (multipurpose vessels), heavy-lift vessels, and self-propelled deck carriers, which are relatively smaller sizes for ocean-going vessels in NYK Group. About 150 of these kinds of vessels fit for all types of needs travel every day across about 400 ports around the world, transporting an array of cargo to serve various customers in the world.

“Tsuneishi Shipbuilding focuses on reducing the global environmental impact in the design and construction of our vessels and has declared itself to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. To realize this aim and recognize ourselves to be a frontrunner in an environmentally friendly yard, we are driving to develop and construct new fueled vessels which combine environmental impact reduction and 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,” said Kenichi Shibata, Tsuneishi Shipbuilding managing executive officer.

On the other hand, Drax Group’s purpose is to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future. In 2019 it announced its intention to be carbon-negative by 2030, using the bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) technology. The company’s 3,500 employees operate across three principal areas of activity—electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production and supply to third parties.

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 United States and Canada. The company has a longstanding relationship with NBP, which transports its pellets to Japan.

Through the MOU, which was signed at the British Embassy in Tokyo, the companies will initially conduct research to develop the new shipping technology. This on-board biomass fuel plant would be required to power a bioship. The 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. These gases would then be used to power a generator which could propel the bioship and also provide a proportion of its internal power.

At the MOU signing, from left: Shibata; Sheffield; Masashi Suda, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers Ltd CEO and president, and Yanagisawa

22% reduction in carbon emissions

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

“Drax aims to be carbon negative by 2030, and decarbonizing 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 decarbonization goals but could also drive the innovation needed to transform shipping and cut carbon emissions and fuel costs in global supply chains. I’m looking forward to working with our partners NYK, NBP and Tsuneishi Shipbuilding to explore the potential this technology has to support global efforts to address the climate crisis. We are also exploring the role of other renewable technologies in delivering greener shipping,” said Paul Sheffield, Drax Group chief commercial officer. (Story and photos courtesy of NYK Group)