Japan is working on the world’s first biomass-powered ship

A consortium of Japanese and British companies is working to make shipping greener and more sustainable, through the development of the world's first biomass-powered ship.
bio-mass powered ship Japan

A consortium of Japanese and British companies is working to make shipping greener and more sustainable, through the development of the world’s first biomass-powered ship.

The companies NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers, Tsuneishi Shipbuilding and Drax Group have signed a memorandum of understanding to create this innovative “bioship“, and the technology necessary for its operation.

An ambitious project, which could mark a turning point in the logistics sector, reducing the environmental impact of one of the most polluting industries in the world.

Biomass, a key resource for Japan

Biomass is playing an increasingly important role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel-based to low-carbon and renewable electricity generation. The country’s demand for biomass pellets, mainly sourced from North America and made from sawmill and forestry residues, is steadily increasing.

Drax produces biomass pellets in the Southern United States and Canada, and has a strong partnership with NBP to transport its pellets to Japan. Currently, these pellets are transported using small vessels which have encountered challenges in switching to low-emission fuels such as ammonia due to the limited size of their tank.

Technology at the heart of the project

According to the memorandum of understanding (signed at the British Embassy in Tokyo), the companies will begin research to develop a new navigation technology: a biomass fuel system needed to power a bioship.

The four companies are exploring the use of other (even bizarre) renewable technologies to reduce emissions and fuel costs in biomass transportation.

The biomass power plant will use a gasifier to efficiently burn biomass at high temperatures, producing and capturing gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane. These gases will then be harnessed to drive a generator, providing both propulsion for the bioship and some of its internal energy.

Towards a significant reduction in emissions

Implementing a biomass power plant could lead to a 22% decrease in well-to-wake carbon emissions for bioships compared to using fossil fuels. If successful, the companies will collaborate to explore the feasibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

I want to clarify this to avoid misunderstandings: it is no joke to develop such a project. Mainly to fine-tune processes, logistical issues (such as biomass supply, or on-board storage). The potential benefits, however, are enormous.

Shipping is responsible for approximately 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Its decarbonisation of the sector is crucial to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Bioships could offer a sustainable solution, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the entire industry.

If successful, this Japanese-British consortium could pave the way for a future where biomass-powered ships become the norm, not the exception. A future in which maritime transport is no longer a contribution to the problem of climate change, but part of the solution.

Read also: The 7 major shipping hubs worldwide

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