Agreement signed for ‘world’s first’ biomass-fueled ship

Japanese companies NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP), Tsuneishi Shipbuilding and British renewable energy business Drax Group have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop the ‘world’s first’ biomass-fueled ship (bioship) and the technology that could power it.


Through the MoU, which was signed at the British Embassy in Tokyo, the partners will initially conduct research to develop the new shipping technology, an on-board biomass fuel plant, which would be required to power a bioship.

Specifically, 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.

Additionally, the four companies are exploring how other renewable technologies could be used to reduce both the emissions and fuel costs of shipping biomass.

Under the agreement, NYK Line will provide its knowledge on the decarbonization of maritime transport, while NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers will give its insights on marine transportation of biomass pellets. Meanwhile, Tsuneishi Shipbuilding will work on ship design and construction and biomass fuel systems.


“This initiative is part of NYK’s long-term target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050 for the NYK Group’s oceangoing businesses. The NYK Group is committed to providing its expertise in low-carbon and decarbonised maritime transportation as per this MOU and will utilize the knowledge gained in this research and development to promote initiatives related to various energy-saving technologies,” Shinichi Yanagisawa, Executive Officer of NYK Line, 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,” Paul Sheffield, Drax Group’s Chief Commercial Officer, stated.

“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.”

“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 important step towards decarbonised society for all concerned parties. NBP will continue to contribute to global decarbonisation together with its customers and partners,” Masashi Suda, NBP’s President, added.

“TSUNEISHI SHIPBUILDING focuses on reducing the global environmental impact in the design and construction of our vessels and has declared ourselves to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. For realising this aim and recognising ourselves to be a frontrunner of environmentally friendly yard, we are driving to develop and construct new fueled vessels which combining environmental impact reduction and economic efficiency,” Kenichi Shibata, Managing Executive Officer of Tsuneishi Shipbuilding commented.

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, according to NYK.

If this development is successful, the companies will jointly study the possibility of building a bioship by the end of 2029.

Biomass is playing a growing role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel power generation to low-carbon and renewable electricity. Furthermore, 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.