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Plans to construct the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship

20 June 2024

A consortium of Japanese shipping companies comprising NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers, Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Company, and UK- headed renewable energy group Drax Group, have recently signed a new Memorandum of Understanding, to develop both the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship and the tech that could power it.

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. The company 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.

Through the MoU, which was 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 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.

The installation of a biomass fuel plant could see a 22% reduction in well-to-wake carbon emissions in bioships compared to using fossil fuels. If this development is successful, the companies will jointly explore building a bioship by the end of 2029.

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Source and image credit: Drax

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