Ireland company prepares to launch fossil fuel-free ships

By Lisa Gibson
Ireland-based B9 Shipping Ltd. anticipates the launch of two fossil fuel-free demonstration cargo ships in 2012, powered by soft sails and biogas from anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic waste streams, food waste and landfill gas.

The demonstration ships will be designed and financed in 2010 and built in 2011. One will be a dry bulk carrier, designed for cargo such as wood chips and carried to biomass power plants in the U.K., and the other will be a chemical tanker for bioethanol and biodiesel markets, according to David Surplus, B9 Shipping managing director. The company is initially concentrating on the wood chip and pellet trade between the Baltic states and the U.K., but has identified some potential on the coasts of the U.S. and Canada. The long-term goal is to deploy the vessels all around the world, especially in small island states that rely on small coastal vessels as the backbone of their economies, Surplus said.

B9's sister company, B9 Organic Energy Ltd., is a U.K. market leader in AD and will aid its shipping counterpart in securing an adequate supply of biogas through two means, Surplus said. First, the biogas (60 percent methane and 40 percent carbon dioxide) can be compressed and run through a spark ignition engine to drive the propeller; or the methane component can be liquefied to produce biomethane and run the same spark ignition engine. A 50,000-ton-per-year AD project will provide sufficient biogas to run a 1.5 megawatt engine 24/7, Surplus said. "Because the B9 ship operating plan is focused on saving biogas through optimizing the use of wind power, we are projecting that four ships will be fuelled from each AD project," he said. "To achieve this, it is necessary for the wind speeds along the route to be as high as the North Sea."

"We also will provide best practice environmental performance over the life of the contract, which is important if the biomass power plant planning permission is granted on this basis," he said. "We will always need to identify a suitable return cargo for ships and if no trades already exist, we have the ability to stimulate new trades supporting new industries. In particular, we are keen to transport recyclate for reprocessing because those commodities also have strong environmental performance targets."

Once the demonstration vessels have proven themselves, the company has an initial commercial target to build 50 dry bulk vessels, which would allow the U.K. biomass industry to comply with the new Renewable Energy Directive from the EU of 10 percent, Surplus said. "Thereafter, and as we move closer to the low-carbon economy, we foresee that the majority of the 1,800 coasters in EU waters and 10,000 throughout the world will need to be replaced with fossil fuel-free vessels," he said.

-Lisa Gibson