Sustainable Sailing develops plant-based composites

R&D and consultancy firm Sustainable Sailing has developed a proof-of-concept 75 per cent bio-based composite rudder blade, which has been approved for use in the Europe Dinghy class. The newly developed alternative to fibreglass could dramatically reduce the boating industry’s carbon footprint.

The resin and foam used to build typical boat hulls are derived from oil, which has a huge climate impact. In addition, glass-fibre requires large amounts of energy to produce. The vast majority of boats are built around a foam core, covered with glass-fibre reinforced by resin. This has resulted in hard-wearing, easy-to-repair and strong boats that can last for an extremely long time, but with an enormous carbon footprint to build and maintain, and no clear recycling pathway at the end of their life.

By combining engineering advances with technology which replaces a large percentage of the crude oil-derived components, UK-based Sustainable Sailing says it has been able to build components that are 75 per cent bio-based.

The firm says it focused on technologies built from waste wood, which has been processed so it can be used instead of glass-fibre as the reinforcement in the composite. This is then combined with a resin, which has had a large amount of its starting materials replaced with bio-based alternatives, while also reducing the amount of resin used. This is anticipated to have a dramatic reduction in the carbon footprint of the components, while maintaining or improving the performance profile of the components.

Sustainable Sailing is one of the few companies to have successfully built components using plant-based fibres and resins, which are used competitively.

Sustainable Sailing’s founding director, Joe Penhaul Smith, says: “By focussing on existing dinghies as a proof of concept for the technology and targeting components rather than complete boats, we have been able to iterate designs and technologies quickly at a minimal cost. This has meant that the Chlorofoils are now available for purchase by sailors of the Europe dinghy, without breaking the bank.”

The boats are available for purchase, and have now been approved for use in all UK racing events, with three Chlorofoils already in use in the UK Europe dinghy racing circuit.

Luke Lazell, boatbuilder and mainstay of the Europe class, has been testing the prototypes since the beginning of the year. He says: “The blade looks great, feels great and has proven itself in windy and wavey conditions, yet comes with the advances in new materials and sustainability.”

Sustainable Sailing is currently developing this technology to build a wider range of Chlorofoils for Europe as well as other dinghy classes. This technology will also bring a dramatic improvement to the carbon footprint of all marine composites.

One response to “Sustainable Sailing develops plant-based composites”

  1. Rob Watson says:

    Great to see carbon reduction initiatives that are available to us all. As you say, developing the solution for a whole boat would have been expensive and risky but this is a flying start.