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Basalt, flax, hemp? The important is to respect the environment!

boat eco materials

A LUCKY “OLD” SAILING BOAT The recent tragic events related to the Covid pandemic with the consequent international lock down have shown all kinds of effects, one of which has been the return of nature to the sea and inland waters. We have all seen dolphins in Italian and European ports, lakes with crystal clear waters etc. The general conclusion was only one: our presence is a disgrace for the sea and its creatures.

We pollute and destroy the environment (not the marine only of course) in a senseless and worrying way. So, among a tragedy we can count at least  a positive result: the formerly often overheard voice of sustainability has turned from a whisper into a roar.

The current situation

Doubtless, the boating industry was one of the first industrial sectors to become aware of the environmental problems posed by the presence of noisy and polluting engines at sea as well as the problems of recycling and reuse of disused boats because, starting from the second half of the nineties, it has undergone a remarkable development both as regards the sectors of transport, pleasure boats and cruise ships, but also and above all for the growing development of the motor boats and sports boats sector in general.

Currently, the research of innovative materials, and consequently of suitable production technologies, it is one of the main objectives given that both the production methods and the construction elements in composite materials are having a very negative effect on the environment.

Millions of boats, motor and sails,  will reach the end of their life span within the next 20-30 years. We all know that these boats cannot be recycled and will inevitably end up in landfill. Abandoned and derelict boats are a growing global problem, one that will only get worse if it is not addressed now.

The problem of abandoned boats

new materials for boat production

The boat is a complex structure, made of FRP or metal, together with wood, plastic, fabrics etc. therefore recycling or reusing a boat poses significant problems, it means that any transformation of the raw materials should be addressed having in mind what to do with the material at the end of its life. Research is needed to find sustainable technologies and materials, to involve manufacturers and consumers. The goal is not to produce for the landfill, but to create an innovative business model capable of creating solutions to stimulate a responsible development for long term sustainability of the marine industry

The issue of managing the EoL (End of Life) of abandoned products and production waste is also of great importance because currently the installations, equipments, procedures and specific programs for complex products of this type are still in the initial.

It is believed that the issue of managing the EoL (End of Life) or abandoned products and production waste is also of great importance because currently the installations, equipment, procedures and specific programs for complex products of this type are still in the initial stage.

The goal of sustainability

The research and experimentation of new types of composite materials is aimed towards new reinforcements and resins which, in addition to guaranteeing adequate mechanical and thermal performance, are characterized by sustainability. The European and international research is focusing its attention on reinforcements of natural origin, both vegetable and mineral, to replace the reinforcements and synthetic resins with recyclable natural fibers and resins.

The use of this type of materials, due to their intrinsic characteristics, would facilitate the solution of many problems.

boat world production

We can evaluate some of the innovative aspects deriving from the introduction of vegetable origin materials: first of all, the replacement of synthetic fibers, such as glass and carbon, entails a considerable lightening due to the huge difference in specific weight between these materials and natural fibers (just think that flax fiber weighs 1.4 g / cm3 against 2.56 g / cm3 of glass fiber and flax is approximately 1.5 g / cm3, approximately 40% lighter than glass at 2.56 g / cm3,) and a consequent reduction in fuel consumption and harmful emissions, moreover a resource would be exploited which grows and renews itself annually, and which, being totally biodegradable, does not produce any residue at the end of its life cycle.

A complex issue

To produce biofibers, “research” agriculture is required, which involves the application of particular cultivation techniques that include special types of fertilizers and pesticides and, of course, a particularly advanced preparation technology. In fact, after the harvesting  and removal of the seeds, the pectin that holds the fibers together must be eliminated and the fibers selected for the specific use. In fact, only long fibers can be used in the production of technical fabrics and their properties are optimized by subsequent treatments such as boiling, bleaching and other treatments.

These fibers, besides being less expensive than glass, are also harmless to humans if inhaled, they are not abrasive and are naturally biodegradable. Obviously the use of natural fibers allows to produce technologically advanced composite materials with regard to the environmental impact, however the use in the marine industry is not without problems because these fibers are hydrophilic, therefore they must be protected otherwise absorb moisture with the negative consequences that are easily imaginable. Furthermore, the compatibility with the polymeric matrix that will support them must be considered

What about the resins?

Obviously, for a composite, to be truly biodegradable, it is necessary that the matrix (resin) as well be recyclable. Today on the market some types of resins of natural origin are available. For example, furan resins are derived from the waste biomass produced by sugar factories. This resin, reinforced with natural fibers, allows to obtain a composite totally derived from nature. They are thermosetting resins that can also be reinforced with traditional reinforcements such as glass or carbon and used in all construction techniques.

Totally biodegradable composites are currently used in the production of non-structural parts both for the automotive industry and for the marine and naval industry. Their advantages include the absence of VOCs (volatile organic products), the reduced use of oil and, of course, the total renewability of sources. The physical properties of these compounds are practically the same as the traditional ones, including a remarkable resistance to corrosion.

Certainly there are still many aspects to be defined and still many possible alternatives to those already tried, the research continues. It is now some years that yacht builders are considering and using natural composites, initially to internal components such as furniture, finishes, and doors, lately to build structural parts as well.

Recently, a young generation of naval architects has grown up. They look at yacht design with new eyes, without preconceptions and also want to challenge the status quo of sustainability.


yacht industry

The most recent is TYNC Design – The Young Naval Creators, a new naval architect design studio based in Valencia and London. Founded in 2019 by Jeroen Wats and a colleague.

Jeroen is a passionate ocean racer, originally from the Netherlands, with extensive experience in designing efficient and fast high tech yachts. Jeroen turned his attention to the environment because he himself saw firsthand how polluting the industry is and decided to do something about it.

TYNC’s claim: “We are on a mission to distrupt the industry”

As industry innovators, TYNC Design believe the only way millions of tons of indestructible composites boats can be handled with consideration for the environment, is for commercially viable recycling, or preferably ‘upcycling‘. Their aim is maximum sustainability, unmatched product interaction and usability focused on construction efficiency, using sustainable materials that can be recycled, upcycled or disposed of without impacting the environment.

Going beyond today’s standards, they are partnering with technical leaders in the development of structural core and eco-composite materials used in marine, automotive and aerospace industries. The peculiar sandwich construction ideated by TYNC, increases hull stiffness whilst keeping composite weight to a minimum. Furthermore, it will possible to separate the materials at the end of the vessel’s lifespan, allowing for their recycling and up-cycling. The composite elements will be ISO approved and vessels designed and engineered according the CE categories up to A.

The designers are also working closely with marine propulsion experts, arriving at a next generation optimized diesel and electric hybrid power unit, the eco tender they designed uses a smart electric outboard solution.

Latest example in the sailboats category is a 33 ft catamaran that has been developed for eco tourism and chartering. It’s materials can be separated after the boat’s lifespan and upcycled into something new without impacting the environment. Powered by solar panels and able to hydro-generate our zero-emission design doesn’t only look slick, we see it as the future of green boating.

The “Eco scoop” (another creation of this TYNC) can be equipped with the catamaran taking floating plastic out of the sea whilst sailing. (SEE IMAGE)


Cristiana Talon and her partner Enrico Benco also come from the sailing world, Benco with “Moro di Venezia” and Talon with “Mascalzone Latino” both were able to see the excellence of technology but also its negative effects and its limits. The innovative idea of ​​their company GS4C (Go Saling, for a Change) was to bring to the marine industry, which remains anchored to a rather traditional business vision, new ideas and new business models. Bringing together the “traditional” mentality of ship yards with advanced research, privileging sustainability and circular economy.

GS4C, an innovative SME, has chosen Filava, a fiber obtained from basalt, a mineral present in volcanic sites. Among the “zero landfill” technological solutions, a Belgian manufacturer, Isomatex, has created this mineral fiber, obtained from enriched basalt which, together with the resin, completely replaces fiberglass. It is a enterely recyclable material according to the circular economy model, cradle-to-cradle.

The basalt is enriched with other minerals to bring it to a constant and repeatable quality, therefore certifiable, afterwards a  fiber is obtained from which a very flexible and soft to the touch fabric is wowen. By using an epoxy bioresin, a composite capable of replacing fiberglass is obtained.

The great results of the resin

At the end of the commercial life – explain the entrepreneurs – through pyrolysis the material is broken down again: the resin acts as fuel and the Filava returns to its original state, perfectly reusable.“. From the raw material to the semi-finished product then again to the raw material.

The innovative scope of this component was understood by the Amer Yachts shipyards in Sanremo: “We were immediately interested – explains Barbara Amerio – and we are designing an 80-footer, built with Filava. We truly believe in this. The initial costs will be offset by the results and the immediate reuse of the scraps “. On the occasion of the last “ Salone nautico internazionale di Genova 2019” Amer Yachts received the  recognition of the maximum environmental certification Rina-Green Plus Platinum, further confirming the attention and commitment of the Sanremo shipyard to the environment.

Meanwhile GS4C has created a prototype, a mini650, and an Optimist has been built with the scraps: both boats are used by the sail school of Santa Teresa – Lerici. Filava finds its first and natural application in the marine industy but can replace the broad spectrum fiberglass, for example for wind turbines today in fiberglass. All in a circular perspective, no longer the end of life of the materials, but reuse “from cradle to cradle”.

New horizons

Much has been changing and the market is also evolving due to growing concerns about the environment, pollution and sustainability issues. Significant research has been conducted to develop environmentally friendly and fully “green” polymers, resins and composites. Sustainable products that do not use oil as a raw material but rely on sustainable sources such as plants. Another positive change is that more and more business leaders seem to believe that being good for the environment can also be positive for their profits. In fact, many large companies are now talking about the triple bottom line “economic, environmental and social.

Boats as well as the boating industry could send a very important message to the whole community, cutting on costs and bringing back to the sport investors and sponsors keen to promote their commitment to environmental issues.

The interview

We asked  Jeroen Watts many questions relating to the materials and technologies used in the construction of their boats but unfortunately we have not been able to get many answers! In fact, we understand that the technology used is extremely innovative and therefore it is clear that the secret must be kept

Jeroen can you tell us which kind of reinforcing fibers do you use?

In terms of fibers we use Basalt fibers. I am a little worried about giving the recipe of the cake to someone else. We have spent a lot of time and money in the developments of the composites. As well the resin types I cannot share. Yes Basalt is used nowadays.

At least can you tell us if you did use an eco resin for the matrix?

In terms of resin, I can say that, the one used it is not eco but can be recycled and allows to separate composite elements after the lifespan.

In the search of ultimate eco, you never hit 100%. It is a matter of putting elements in the scale as production efficiency, costprice etc. We will not claim we are 100% eco but we go beyond the industry developments for sure.

But will the cost of this boat be in line with current production? Apart from the costs of the materials, we think that in terms of hours the cost may be higher than the industrial standard considering the peculiarity of the object.

Yes you have a valid point. I would say that the way of production and workflow is identical to conventional yacht building.




SAIM: Mini Controller

The Mini Controller designed by the Swedish Zipwake and distributed in Italy