Giant Japanese shipowner NYK has revealed it is working on the world’s first vessel to be fuelled by biomass.

The “bioship” project also involves domestic shipbuilder Tsuneishi and UK renewable energy company Drax Group.

The vessel would use gas from biomass to propel it.

The aim is to have a ship ordered by the end of 2029.

The technology could decarbonise the shipping of biomass pellets to Japan, potentially reducing carbon emissions by 22%, NYK said.

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

Demand is increasing for pellets that are sourced primarily from North America and composed of sawmill and forestry residues.

Drax produces biomass pellets in the US and Canada and uses NYK bulkers for exports.

They are shipped using smaller handysizes, which due to the limited size of their fuel tanks have proved challenging to switch to lower emission fuels, such as ammonia.

The partners will now develop new technology for an onboard biomass fuel plant.

Gases generated

Biomass would be converted at high temperatures to create gases including carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, which would then power a generator.

Shinichi Yanagisawa, executive officer at NYK, said the initiative is part of the group’s long-term target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Paul Sheffield, Drax’s chief commercial officer, added that his company is aiming to be carbon negative by 2030.

Masashi Suda, president of NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers, said the “super low-emission vessel” will be an “important step towards decarbonised society for all concerned parties”.