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A New Breed of Composites

Some builders are replacing fiberglass and carbon with flax and basalt fibers
The all-electric Voltaire 33 Sky utilizes flax fiber in a bioepoxy resin that can be fully recycled when the power cat is no longer in use. 

The all-electric Voltaire 33 Sky utilizes flax fiber in a bioepoxy resin that can be fully recycled when the power cat is no longer in use. 

At last year’s Metstrade show, the Innovation Lab hosted speakers presenting projects that had deliberately moved away from fiberglass and polyester resin composites. These composites have dominated the boat construction market for decades, yet still lack an environmentally acceptable waste-stream solution for the ever-increasing number of end-of-life boats.

In the time since then, more and more designers and builders not only are focusing on electric or hybrid propulsion solutions that save energy and reduce emissions, but also are turning to genuinely sustainable construction materials. A new generation of eco-friendly composites is emerging. These materials can effectively have fibers and resins separated and circulated back into boatbuilding, rather than going to a landfill or incinerator when the boat is no longer in use.

Baltic Yachts, for instance, a builder of high-performance sailboats in Finland, has made the transition to flax fiber composites as an alternative to carbon fiber. Flax is a naturally grown and commonly available plant-based material. The yard made considerable use of it for the interior panel work on the Reichel/Pugh-designed Baltic 130 My Song, delivered in 2016, and has since begun incorporating flax composites into 50 percent of the structural moldings on its new Baltic 68 Café Racer.

Powered by twin 50-kW Torqeedo Deep Blue motors, the zero-emission 33 Sky will have a cruise speed of 12 knots and a range of 100 nautical miles at 9 knots.

Powered by twin 50-kW Torqeedo Deep Blue motors, the zero-emission 33 Sky will have a cruise speed of 12 knots and a range of 100 nautical miles at 9 knots.

That 68-footer also has a host of sustainable design features, including a zero-emission, 30-kW electric engine, solar power and a hard-wearing deck made from Lignia, an engineered softwood with a 50-year lifespan that won a DAME award last year at Metstrade.

Other companies are making eco-friendly inroads, too. Amer Yachts in Italy is planning to build using an enriched basalt fiber called Filavia, while Greenboats in Germany is building a 27-foot daysailer constructed from a flax/bioresin-derived matrix.

Meanwhile, RS Sailing, a U.K.-based producer of sailing dinghies and RIBs, has a subsidiary called RS Electric Boats whose Pulse 58 will be built by Norco from sustainable laminate. The material will consist of a bio-based, infused epoxy resin with a recycled PET core material. The matrix will be reinforced with naturally sourced basalt and flax fibers.

Recyclable materials are also incorporated into the helm, hardtop and other features.

Recyclable materials are also incorporated into the helm, hardtop and other features.

And because RS Electric Boats and Norco are near one another in Britain, transport distances will be kept to a minimum, thus further reducing the carbon footprint of the total production process.

Not to be outdone, Voltaire Electric Yachts, which has offices in the United States and Germany, has launched the Voltaire 33 Sky. It’s a 32-foot-5-inch, all-electric coastal cruising power cat fitted with a pair of 50-kW Torqeedo Deep Blue motors. Top speed is reported at 17 to 20 knots, with a cruise speed of 12 knots and a range of 100 nautical miles at 9 knots.

The composite used to build the 33 Sky is a flax fiber embodied in a bioepoxy resin sometimes used in race car applications, and able to be deconstructed at end of life.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue.

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