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Project to test feasibility of sail-powered bulker

Drax, operator of the UK’s largest power station, is partnering with the Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SSGA), leading dry bulk cargo transporter Ultrabulk, and Humphreys Yacht Design to tackle the mounting issue of CO2 emissions from the shipping industry.

A £100,000-, 12-month feasibility study funded by InnovateUK, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and private investors has begun, which will examine the potential of fitting the innovative sail technology Fastrig onto Ultrabulk ships importing biomass into the UK for cutting both carbon emissions and costs.


The shipping industry emits roughly 3% of global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions (CO2-equivalent), or approximately 1 billion tonnes of COCO22 and other GHGs per year—more than twice as much as the UK’s total emissions, from all sources.

Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire has transformed its business having converted two thirds of the power station to use biomass instead of coal; it is now Europe’s biggest decarbonization project. Last year, it imported 6.8 million tonnes of the compressed wood pellets in 221 deliveries to the ports of Immingham, Hull, Tyne and Liverpool, to enable it to generate 14% of the UK’s renewable electricity.

Using biomass at Drax has delivered carbon savings of more than 80% compared to coal—this includes supply chain emissions—but shipping remains one of the most carbon intensive parts of the biomass supply chain. Drax’s desire to drive down emissions even further enabled Smart Green Shipping to partner with an end user looking for the lowest carbon cargo provider.

The first six months of the project will be a technical feasibility study, establishing the mechanical parameters for retrofitting the Fastrig solution onto ships. The next six months will focus on putting together a business case and calculating detailed costings for the project. The aim is to retrofit a ship with the Fastrig technology—depending on the outcome of the feasibility study, the launch of the Commercial Demonstrator could be done as soon as 2021.



Good idea - you don't need to ship the pellets that quickly + you can't easily put sails on a container ship (but you can on a bulk carrier).
It sounds bad - importing wood pellets from Canada, but if the ships are large enough, it should be OK, especially if they use some or all wind power.

Using biomass at Drax has delivered carbon savings of more than 80% compared to coal—this includes supply chain emissions—

Does it now?

The Drax annual report for 2017 mentions 13.0 TWh of generation from biomass (p. 30) out of 20.0 TWh total, so 7.0 TWh from other sources.  The 13.0 TWh came from a rated capacity of 1980 MW (3 x 660 MW), yielding a duty cycle of 75.0%.  They ran those things almost like base load.

Carbon (presumably CO2) emissions from biomass are 11,776 kt (p. 35) and fossil emissions total 6,296 kt.  These correspond to emissions of 906 kg/MWh and 899 kg/MWh respectively, so close as to be a wash.

What doesn't come with the fossil fuels, though, is a radical decrease in the carbon-capture efficiency of the source area.  The clearcuts from which these wood pellets ultimately come require years to get back to the net biomass accumulation rate they had before harvest.

Now, what would cut the carbon emissions of shipping to zero?  Going nuclear, of course.  But in that case you might as well replace the 3 x 660 MW wood-fired generators with 1 x 1600 MW EPR and avoid shipping 6.8 million tons of stuff per year at all.  Avoid cutting it, too.


Growing new forests capture more CO2 than mature forests. New forests are less prone to forest fires. Harvesting mature forests (and replanting) can be very positive when all wood products and by-products are used.

California has a lot to learn?

Using one 1600 MW EPR would make a very costly ($15+B) bulk carrier? Only (rich nations) Navies could afford it.


One 1600 MWe EPR at 90% capacity factor, displacing either fossil fuels or biomass at 900 kgCO2/MWh, eliminates 11.3 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.  If you don't like the EPR, try 1 x or 1.5 x AP1400 from KEPCO.

If you need to cut mature forest to prevent forest fires, you can do much better things with it than spewing the carbon straight into the atmosphere again.  If that's what you're going to do, what's the difference between that and a forest fire?

Nick Lyons

Burning an existing carbon sink NOW, when it is critical to reduce carbon emissions, while promising to pull the carbon out by regrowing a forest LATER is a loser for the climate. Pure greenwashing.

Per EP: nuclear is cleaner, safer, better in every way.


Actually, there's one thing you could probably do with a mature forest that would both harvest wood and increase its carbon uptake:  coppicing and/or pollarding.

Pollarding is pretty labor-intensive, though.  Very unlikely that you'd be able to afford to run Drax on wood pellets from pollarded Georgian oak forests.

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