Drax has joined major global companies to help develop both the world’s first biomass-fuelled ship (bioship) and the technology that could power it.  

The North Yorkshire company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with leading Japanese companies NYK Line (NYK), NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP) and TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING Co., Ltd..

Drax says 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 firms 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 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 when compared to using fossil fuels. If this development is successful, the four will jointly study the possibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

Paul Sheffield, Drax Group’s 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.

“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.”