NYK, Tsuneishi and Drax Study Biofuel Bioship Design for Bulkers

Concept looks to use biomass as a decarbonization fuel for smaller bulkers (NYK)

Published May 14, 2024 4:09 PM by The Maritime Executive


A new study is getting underway exploring the development of a biomass-fueled bioship, which would be the first of its kind in the world. Biomass in pellet form made by compressing sawmill and forestry residue is being promoted as an alternative fuel that is gaining traction in Japan and elsewhere.

Japan’s NYK Line and its NYK Bulk & Projects Carrier company launched a partnership with Tsuneishi Shipbuilding and Drax Group, a British renewable energy company, to develop the technology and the first ship powered by biomass. The companies said the installation of a biomass plant could provide a 22 percent reduction in well-to-wake carbon emissions. If the development project is successful, they will jointly study the possibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

“After study of biomass fuel plant and gasifier system, Drax, Tsuneishi Shipbuilding, NYK, and NBP have concluded a memorandum of understanding for the feasibility study on the development of the world’s first wood pellets-powered super low-emission vessel. This is an important step towards decarbonized society,” said Masashi Suda, President of NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers.

NYK highlights that it has experience with biomass as its use grows in Japan as a fuel source for power plants which traditionally were mostly coal-fired. NYK transports biomass manufactured by Drax in Canada to Japan. 

They highlighted the technology possibly as a solution for the smaller handysize bulkers which they said will be more difficult to decarbonize due to their smaller size and smaller fuel capacity. Handysize bulkers are the ones used to transport biomass to Japan.

As part of the project, the companies will conduct research to develop the new shipping technology, including an onboard biomass fuel plant, which would be required to build a bioship. They are also exploring how other renewable technologies could be used to reduce both the emissions and fuel costs of shipping biomass.

“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,” said Paul Sheffield, Drax Group’s Chief Commercial Officer.

Biomass is a controversial fuel source. Environmentalists argue there are better sustainable and low-emission fuels than using precious forestry resources.

Drax has received strong support from the UK government which looks to incorporate biomass into its strategy. The company already operates a power station in Yorkshire. It burns 6.4 million tonnes of biomass annually contributing more than six percent of the country’s electrical supply.