Could wood pellets be another alternate fuel option for maritime?

Written by Nick Blenkey
wood pellet powered ship

Image: NYK Line

Three leading Japanese companies, NYK Line, NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP) and Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. are planning to build a ship powered by wood pellets under an MOU signed with U.K. based Drax Group. Drax produces the wood pellets , which are categorized as “biomass,” in both the southern U.S. and Canada. The company has a longstanding relationship with NBP which transports its pellets to Japan.

According to Drax the biomass wood pellets produce 80% less CO2 emissions when combusted than coal and they are playing a growing role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuel power generation to low carbon and renewable electricity.

The wood pellets are currently shipped using 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 companies will initially conduct research to develop new shipping technology, an on-board biomass fuel plant, to power a ship that they describe as 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 (in this case, wood pellets) 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.

wood pellet gasifier

According to the companies, installation of a biomass fuel plant could see a 22% reduction in well-to-wake carbon emissions as compared to using fossil fuels. If this development is successful, the companies will jointly study the possibility of building a wood pellet powered ship by the end of 2029.

“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,” said Shinichi Yanagisawa, executive officer of NYK Line. “The NYK Group is committed to providing its expertise in low-carbon and decarbonized 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.”

“Drax aims to be carbon negative by 2030 and decarbonizing our supply chain is critical to reaching this goal,” said Paul Sheffield, chief commercial officer at Drax, which has also been looking at adding wind assistance to ships transporting its pellets. “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.”

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