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Three major companies team up on a technology for the world's first 'bioships' — here's how they work

"This MoU is an important step in the development of the technology."

"This MoU is an important step in the development of the technology."

Photo Credit: Drax

Three huge Japanese companies are joining forces to develop a "bioship" — a ship powered by biomass.

Tsuneishi Shipbuilding, NYK Line, and NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers — plus British renewable energy company Drax Group — have signed an agreement to collaborate on the project. It will see new ship technology that utilizes biomass pellets for fuel, according to Renewable Energy Magazine.

Though biomass sounds like a futuristic concept, it's actually one of the oldest energy sources in human history, as biomass is a broad category of renewable energy that includes wood, agricultural waste, and manure. By definition, biomass is any renewable organic material that's sourced from plants or animals.

Drax's biomass pellets are made of wood and forest waste. The company purchases biomass in different forms, including sawdust, whole logs, and woodchips, according to its website.

The idea behind biomass-fueled ships is a little complicated: The hypothetical bioship would include a biomass fuel plant featuring a gasifier that burns biomass pellets. The burning of the pellets would then create and trap carbon monoxide, methane, and hydrogen, which would fuel a generator that provides energy for the ship.

The biomass fuel plant could reduce the carbon pollution of a given ship by 22%. Since international cargo shipping is responsible for about 3% of global pollution every year, cutting even a fraction of a ship's carbon footprint could have a substantial environmental impact if widely adopted.

"This initiative is part of NYK's long-term target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gas by 2050 for the NYK Group's oceangoing businesses," Shinichi Yanagisawa, the executive officer of NYK Line, told Renewable Energy Magazine. "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," Paul Sheffield, Drax's chief commercial officer, added. "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."

If the biomass technology is successful, the companies could begin building the bioship by the end of 2029, per the magazine

Other biomass breakthroughs are helping pave the way toward a cleaner future. Scottish and Australian scientists have developed a plan to introduce biomass generation in India. Also, Indonesia's state-owned power company uses over a million tons of biomass per year, and a Georgian company is using biomass to create renewable jet fuel.

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