Thursday, June 20, 2024

Drax to Launch World’s First Wood-Powered Cargo Ship in Emissions Reduction Drive

British power company Drax has announced plans to build the world’s first cargo ship powered by wood, asserting that this controversial energy source can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sea freight.

Drax, known for operating a biomass power station in the UK, has partnered with three Japanese shipping companies to develop the “bioship,” which will be fuelled by wood chips instead of marine diesel, with the first vessel expected to set sail by 2029.

The ship will transport wood chips harvested by Drax from North American forests to new markets in Japan. According to Drax and its Japanese partners, this initiative could pave the way for zero-emission shipping for various other cargoes.

However, the plan has drawn criticism from environmental groups who argue that cutting down forests for fuel is not a sustainable method to achieve net zero emissions. Critics contend that trees take much longer to grow than the time it takes to burn them for fuel, challenging the sustainability of this practice.

Paul Sheffield, Drax’s Chief Commercial Officer, emphasised the company’s commitment to decarbonising its supply chain and becoming carbon negative by 2030. “This is an important step in the development of the technology required to power and launch the world’s first bioship. This 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,” Sheffield said.

The memorandum of understanding, signed at the British Embassy in Tokyo, outlines Drax’s role in developing an on-board biomass fuel plant designed to burn wood. The bioship will be constructed by Hiroshima-based Tsuneishi Shipbuilding and operated by NYK Line, a global shipping company, along with its subsidiary NYK Bulk & Projects Carriers (NBP). Kenichi Shibata, Managing Executive Officer of Tsuneishi, described the project as a “world first.”

Drax is widely known in the UK for its large power station in Yorkshire, which generated around 6% of the country’s electricity last year by burning 6.4 million tonnes of wood—equivalent to 27 million trees—mostly imported from North America. Supporters argue that wood is a sustainable energy source since trees can be regrown to replace those cut down for fuel, with the plants capturing carbon during growth.

However, environmentalists argue that burning wood pellets emits as much carbon as coal. Merry Dickinson of Axe Drax, a campaign group opposing the company’s wood burning plans, stated, “Burning wood pellets emits as much carbon as coal. This latest move is nothing more than another greenwashed scam from Drax.”

Sally Clark from Biofuelwatch added, “Using wood pellets to power ships will only lead to more climate-wrecking emissions, harm to wildlife, and pollution of communities. If we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown, we need to protect and restore the world’s forests, not allow big polluters like Drax to send our futures up in smoke.”

Despite these criticisms, Drax remains committed to its biomass strategy. In February, CEO Will Gardiner announced plans to build more wood pellet plants in the US, aiming to double production to 8 million tonnes by 2030. The company asserts that biomass is playing a growing role in Japan’s transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon and renewable electricity, with increasing demand for biomass pellets sourced from North America.

Drax claims that the biomass fuel plant will use a gasifier to combust biomass at high temperatures, creating gases to power a generator, potentially reducing carbon emissions by 22% compared to fossil fuels. If successful, the companies involved will consider building the bioship by the end of 2029.