If you want to be sustainable, come sailing! It is one of the greenest activities at sea with the lowest carbon footprint. But how long will we buy fiberglass yachts and run on diesel engines?
If we take into account the energy, materials and waste expended in composite shipbuilding, the resulting picture is depressing. Ironically, one of the best paths of progress could be a return to the construction of wooden yachts with hemp ropes and cotton sails, which, you see, is not the best way out. But an in-depth study of yachting's compatibility with sustainability is encouraging. The maritime industry has brilliant minds and many interesting solutions for alternative materials and energy sources.
So how can green technology change shipbuilding in the next ten years, and what will your next yacht be like? About it I asked the experts Toby Hodges from Yachting World magazine.
Going forward, technology will make yacht steering easier and easier. The current generation has a constant shortage of time, so the ability to go out to sea for the weekend without much hassle will become one of the key ones. Yachts that are easier to equip, dock and operate will win.
Shipbuilders are gradually are introducing cleaner engines and renewable energy sourcesand also return to natural and recyclable materials. This makes sense, especially when customers want a more “ethical” product.
Shipbuilding 3D Printer
The next decade is likely to see more widespread use of 3D printing in shipbuilding. This technology is already being used to make custom parts, but it can also be used to mass produce hulls and decks to reduce the number of molds they are currently being cast in.
There are already organizations that are dedicated to reducing waste and energy consumption in shipbuilding and promoting recycled materials and materials with low environmental impact. She did a lot of work in this direction, of course, 11th Hour Racing Team... Standard shipbuilding technology using hand-laid polyester seems to be a thing of the past.
Search for speed
The most effective way to minimize emissions on the go is to sail, which makes a strong case for high performance yachts because they can make the most of the wind. Large catamarans and monohulls also have advantages: they have more space for installing solar panels and sufficient speed to use regenerative energy.
In a study of the Outremer 4E and the new 55, Grand Large Yachting found that more carbon is emitted from yacht operation rather than construction. The report states that if a yacht can sail in 5 knots wind, she will sail 95 % sailing time in the Mediterranean (data for the western Mediterranean region, June – September).
What will be your next yacht?
To achieve these characteristics, weight must be minimized, but is there an alternative to traditional high strength-to-weight synthetic fibers such as glass and carbon? In this regard, basalt fiber has long proven its effectiveness. It is used by new French brand of catamarans Windelo for the manufacture of cases with a matrix from recycled plastic bottles. Since basalt is converted from volcanic rock (with minimal carbon dioxide emissions), the fiber is particularly heat resistant and recyclable.
However, the most significant potential for shipbuilding right now is plant fiber. In particular, one of the most attractive alternatives for use in high-strength composite joints is flax.
Yachts made of plants
By combining rigidity with vibration damping, flax-based products from the Swiss company Bcomp are already effectively used for the production of winter skis and bodywork in motorsport. Composites expert Paul Riley, who now markets Bcomp's marine products, says flax is lighter than fiberglass, has the same stiffness, but is much cheaper than carbon and saves up to 75 % CO2.
Unpretentious flax is a promising raw material for yacht building
“I think in a couple of years it will become mainstream in yachting,” says Paul. “Manufacturers should switch to materials that are less harmful to the environment, which will further ensure the safety and health of their workers.”
Flax ripening period from grain to harvest is 8 weeks. He does not need frequent watering and chemicals. Flax is already using superyacht manufacturer Baltic Yachtsand the German shipyard Greenboats, including the GreenBente 24 built in 2016. The news that the global leader in the supply of composite materials Gurit will become the global distributor of Bcomp could lead to widespread use of flax in the maritime industry.
Visitors this year exhibitions in Dusseldorf could see the potential of flax fiber at the Greenboats booth. Designed by Judel / Vrolijk, their Flax 27 day-seller has become a testing ground for a variety of natural materials and recyclables. The yacht's hull was made of flax and bio-resin with a PET matrix, the deck was made of cork.
Deysiler Flax 27 with linen composite hull and cork deck
Greenboats founder Friedrich Deumann shared how he became disillusioned with composite materials, especially in the background of the “wooden” past of shipbuilding. “The production of fiberglass requires five times more energy than flax,” he explained.
Greenboats have been using linen or natural fiber composites (NFC) since 2010. Thanks to CC technology for panel assembly, the use of molds is minimized. Deumann's company proves the possibility of such a production, but he also has problems. For example, the lack of trained personnel, and the cost of small-scale production is also a topical issue.
Another problem is controlling the amount of resin in the material. As Deumann explains: “Linen should not be hand-laid as it is a natural material and without compression it will absorb too much resin. By filling the resin with a vacuum, you can compress it and control the process. ”
The use of evacuated resin has its own environmental problems, because the plastic in which it is packed increases the amount of waste. Some shipbuilders have already found a smart solution by replacing plastic with reusable silicone bags.
But resin itself is still a problem for chemists to solve. Pure biological resins are already available, but for high performance epoxy resins in shipbuilding, the natural content should not exceed 30 %. Entropic resins, bioepoxides, which are used, for example, in the marine industry and for the production of snow and surfboards, are produced by replacing petroleum-based carbon with renewable plant-based carbon, a by-product of the agricultural industry.
Yachts that can be recycled
Other shipyards are developing thanks to various technologies that allow to extend the life cycle of materials. For example, the hull of the mini 6.50 Arkema 3 racing boat was made from a recyclable thermoplastic composite with Elium acrylic resin that can be shredded and reused in new parts. And many RS dinghy hulls are made from recyclable, rotomolded polyethylene.
One of the most promising areas is the use of aluminum and wood composite housings. These materials can be recycled and do not require special molds to make them.
Vaan is a new Dutch brand of aluminum catamarans, not only durable and recyclable, but made up mostly of recycled parts. Hulls and decks gave a second life to old window frames, road and license plates.
Thanks to Spirit Yachts, the benefits of using high-tech timber structures have become apparent to everyone. Its managing director, Nigel Stewart, instigated the creation of a network of eco-friendly initiatives. For example, the strip sheathing technique provides a very rigid and lightweight hull construction made in most renewable materials.
Spirit 111 - the embodiment of environmental friendliness and futurism
The beautiful new flagship Spirit 111 is considered one of the greenest superyachts ever. It has energy-efficient appliances everywhere, including ultra-efficient hydraulics and a generator set, as well as a recuperative power plant for the Torqeedo electric motor.
There is no doubt that this last element - power - will be the focus of the next decade to make cruising yachts more sustainable.
Switching to electricity
In the field of electric motors, Torqeedo and Oceanvolt have long been in the lead, now Volvo Penta is expanding its product range... Torqeedo has already delivered 100,000 electric drives, but according to CEO Christophe Ballin, this is only a small portion of the market. “So far, only 1.3 % offshore power plants are electrical. We need to establish ourselves and do more, ”he says.
Ballin believes that the optimal solution for yachts for the next decade is a gradual transition to hybrid energy: systems that include a large battery, where hydropower is combined with solar. According to him, this will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 90 %.
This system fully covers the costs of normal living and sailing using only battery power. The generator provides enough energy for daily life on board: heating, air conditioning, washing, cooking. It is also suitable for emergency use if needed. And the internal combustion engine for the yacht is no longer needed.
But how effective is hydroelectricity in practice? Will it, when combined with enough solar panels, eliminate fossil fuels entirely? Ballin has no doubts about it.
But this, of course, depends on the speed and size of the boat. He notes that with a high-speed yacht, all the electricity needed can be generated on the go: “We have a customer with a Gunboat 60 that generates 10-15 kW.”
As Ballin says, the limitation here is the battery capacity, which is determined by the energy density in the battery. In this regard, the Torqeedo Deep Blue technology in combination with the high-voltage lithium-ion batteries of the BMW i3 has a clear advantage over competitors.
Torqeedo Deep Blue in combination with BMW i3 high-voltage lithium-ion batteries
But doesn't the use of lithium batteries as a “clean” source of energy storage create new problems by solving one? Widely known about questionable ethics of cobalt mining, which is used for their production, and the question of disposal of batteries is still open.
Ballin predicts that the industry chain will become more ethical in terms of human rights over time. As he explained, BMW now controls every link, including sourcing for raw materials, to avoid inhuman working conditions. In terms of recycling, Ballin cites the possibility of a second life for marine batteries in power systems and energy storage, before they go into any kind of recycling to recover cobalt.
As he stated: “We are now on the eve of the biggest mobile revolution since the advent of combustion engines. We will have to come to terms with the fact that all stages of this transformation program are imperfect, and this will continue for more than a decade. ”
Looking ahead, Ballin sees three key scenarios for achieving climate neutrality in boats: electric motors, hydrogen power, and synthetic fuels. “I think it will become a rule for sailors to walk on an electric motor wherever possible. And if it doesn't provide enough power - as it does for ocean yachts mostly - then you can switch to hydrogen, for example ... Climate neutral range extenders will soon become mainstream. "
The power of hydrogen
Will Hydrogen Become the Holy Grail of Energy for Yachts? A hydrogen fuel cell works by converting hydrogen from seawater into protons and electrons. Until now, only a few pioneer yachts have used this process as a source of electricity, including the Energy Observer, the world's first energetically autonomous hydrogen boat that has traveled around the world. Currently, the solar powered multihul Race For Water and a kite with a moderate supply of hydrogen on board (200 kg in 25 cylinders) travels three quarters of the way around the world.
Lone racer Phil Sharp demonstrated a hydrogen fuel cell instead of a diesel engine in his Class 40 OceanLab. He believes that large-scale commercial shipping will be able to adopt the technology and reduce carbon emissions to zero.
But for pleasure yachts, hydrogen fuel cells are not yet economically viable. Torqeedo's Ballin explained the practical limitations: "The energy density of hydrogen per kilogram is much higher than that of gasoline or diesel fuel, but the bulk energy density is only about 1/13 of diesel." This means much larger fuel tanks are required, although the volume of hydrogen can be reduced by compression.
This explains why only a few large yachts have used hydrogen until now. Development in this direction is led by Sinot Yacht Design & Architecture with their Aqua projectnot far behind is Daedalus Yachts, which is now halfway to building the first hydrogen superyacht.
“Over the past two years, we have conceived and implemented not only an all-hydrogen electric marine power plant, but also a clean energy microgrid that emitted exclusively oxygen and pure water,” comments Daedalus founder Michael Reardon.
The 88-foot catamaran is being prepared for full commercial exploration as part of a world cruise. It will be driven by Stefan Muff, the creator of technology for Google Maps. The Daedalus electrolyzer, which converts water to hydrogen, is similar to the one already used on US spacecraft and NATO submarines, so the North Carolina company is confident in the reliability of this power source.
And in the short term, seafarers cost pay attention to solar and battery technology... In this industry, you can expect continuous improvements in efficiency and capacity to keep costs down. Photocells built into bimini, masts, decks and sails are already available.
The power of the sails
Sailing wherever possible is an obvious endeavor. But sailcloth is perhaps the most disposable component, especially on racing yachts. Laminate sails with mylar membrane cannot be recycled, and after use they are sent to landfill or abandoned in sheds and shipping containers.
Polyester and dacron sails are much more thermoplastic and can be melted and recyclable, although coatings like melamine are usually a hassle. However, aside from turning into accessories and bags, where else can you attach synthetic sails made from high modulus yarns, which are notoriously difficult to cut and reuse?
Here, the British company OneSails is ahead of the rest with its 4T technology. They use recycled base polymer and replace adhesives and resins with fusion. The result is a fully recyclable single structure composite sail that uses low stretch technology to eliminate the need for mylar or taffeta. “This is the only technology that allows sailors to recycle sails at the end of their life,” says John Parker of OneSails.
North Sails 3Di also does not have mylar, and the company is working to extract raw materials from used sails for processing into polyester fibers. Chief Commercial Officer Tom Davis, who has led the business for the past 20 years, sees two key directions towards greener sails. Firstly, these are raw materials: "I would be very surprised if in the next few years sails are not made mainly from bio-based materials."
Second, this is what Davis calls "back-end": "A very large percentage of the total sail fabric used will be recycled or used in other industries." This statement is based on his own observations. Davis sees how quickly polyester is changing and says North is already using PET films that are chemically indistinguishable from oil films.
He is very impressed with the speed of technology development in these areas. “In the production of sailcloth, we are not big enough to produce new yarns or threads - this is the level of the petrochemical business. But we are the beneficiaries of the technologies that these companies develop. ”
So, for example, in the case of high modulus yarns: North Sails 3Di is working with a company that manufactures a bio-source of monomers from which polymers are made, and then yarns and fibers with high performance. “So, instead of pumping oil out of the ground to make plastic, they start with trees and end with very high-performance plastics,” commented Davis.
What will the yacht of the future be like? Naturally, the most autonomous, durable and with very low energy consumption and loss. Batteries and renewable energy sources mean very little fossil fuels will be used. Filtration of water outside and inside the yacht is becoming more and more important. For those who spend a lot of time on board, the increasing efficiency of desalination plants matters - there is no need for large water tanks.
The only trace of the yacht's stay in the bay will be the imprint of the anchor paws on the sand. Undoubtedly, the next decade will bring a tidal wave of innovation to the maritime sector. The right collective thinking can create a truly rosy future: exciting and green!
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