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Japan’s NYK Line (NYK), NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP) and TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING Co., and British renewable energy company Drax Group (Drax), have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship (bioship) and the technology that could power it.

In a statement issued today (14 May), the companies noted that biomass is ‘playing a growing role’ in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel power generation to low carbon and renewable electricity and highlighted the country’s ‘increasing’ demand for biomass pellets, sourced primarily from North America and composed of sawmill and forestry residues.

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 the companies say, 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.

According to the companies, 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 the development is successful, the companies say will jointly study the possibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

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