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Drax and Ultrabulk partner with Smart Green Shipping Alliance to cut shipping emissions

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Dry Bulk,

Drax, the operator of the UK’s largest power plant, is partnering with the Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SSGA), leading dry bulk cargo transporter Ultrabulk and the naval architects of Dame Ellen McArthur’s 'Kingfisher' yacht, 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 an innovative sail technology called 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 t of CO2 and other GHGs per year. That is over twice as much as the UK’s total emissions, from all sources.


Drax power plant 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 decarbonisation project. Last year, it imported 6.8 million t 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.

Diane Gilpin, CEO and Founder of Smart Green Shipping Alliance said: “This is a project that could really make a difference to the way the industry operates. Drax’s determination to cut carbon emissions creates real demand. Reducing emissions is good business, it saves costs and improves long-term operational certainty. This study aims to find the ‘sweet spot’ between reducing emissions and saving fuel costs. “We’re engaging across shipping, working with port owners, shipbuilders, cargo owners’, and financiers to design pragmatic and effective new systems solutions. The prototypes we’re looking to develop are really exciting. A 21st century sailing-hybrid ship will look as much like the Cutty Sark as a Tesla does a Model T Ford.”

Gilpin is an expert on the UK government’s Clean Maritime Council, which will devise a strategy to reduce emissions from the shipping sector.

UK Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani commented at the Council’s inaugural meeting: “The Clean Maritime Plan will bring new opportunities for Britain’s businesses to design, develop and sell green solutions to this global challenge.”

Drax Group CEO, Will Gardiner, said: “Smart Green Shipping Alliance’s pioneering efforts to deliver cleaner, greener transportation could help achieve the clean growth required for the UK to meet its climate targets. If we’re serious about meeting those targets, decarbonising transportation is the next big challenge.

“The combination of green shipping with renewables makes an even greater contribution to decarbonisation globally. This is a key development in achieving Drax’s aim – to deliver a zero carbon, low cost future for all.”

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.

The technology could drive down not only carbon emissions but also cost. Diane Gilpin explained: “Fuel prices are vulnerable to oil market volatility, but once the technology is developed, wind is free at the point of use.  The first onshore wind turbines were single devices producing 45 KW; now we’re seeing fleets of 10 MW producing energy, without subsidy. We can expect to mirror that speed of transition in the shipping industry.”

The SGSA has been pioneering the uptake of renewables in the maritime industry since 2014, identifying wind power as the first choice of exploration. The long-term aim of the company is to develop commercially viable, zero-emission vessels. The eventual aim is to combine renewable energy from wind power with bio-fuels.

Per Lange, CEO of Ultrabulk said: “We are very much looking forward to working with our partners at Drax and Smart Green Shipping Alliance. The feasibility study initiated is very much in line with the environmental focus of Ultrabulk and the shipping industry at large.”

“We have made considerable improvements to NOx and SOx emissions; the latter being the focus as in 2019 the SOx emission has to be reduced by 85%. As an industry we are underway to deliver on these limits, but we shall naturally not stop there.

“CO2 still needs to be reduced. As well as the Shipping Industry’s commitment through International Maritime Organisation targets, Ultrabulk is committed to achieving significant additional reductions. The Smart Green Shipping Alliance is an exciting step in that direction.”

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Engineering, IMechE said:“This is an exciting project that addresses one of the more difficult decarbonisation challenges and represents the ingenuity of engineering that the Institution of Mechanical Engineers seeks to support.

“Shipping has been a part of our global transportation system for hundreds of years moving through wind and man-power to coal and diesel power. This project presents a new phase taking us full circle forward again to wind power, leading the way with state-of-the-art power and engine technologies enabling shipping to remain relevant and commercially viable in an increasingly low-carbon world.”

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