Like many previous advances progress towards greener boatbuilding requires changing the established mindset. The quest to go green continues to gather momentum. From construction to propulsion, the incentive to look for alternative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our sport is spreading rapidly and discussions around more eco-friendly construction techniques are also gathering pace.
However, the underlying development of green epoxies is not new. Composite experts Gougeon Brothers Inc, with whom Wessex Resins formulate and manufacture various products under licence, have been working in this field for some time.
‘We have a very well established bio brand, Entropy Resins, which has been around in the US and Europe for roughly about nine years,’ explains Wessex Resins’ sales director Dave Johnson. ‘It was developed by two scientists who were also surfers and what struck them was that the majority of surfboards were being made out of polyester resin and would have a limited lifespan. There was little they could do to recycle them either.
‘So what they developed was an epoxy that had a high bio base that was sustainable and accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture. The Entropy Resins brand and the technology around it were acquired by Gougeon Brothers who developed it further before scaling the manufacturing process up for higher levels of production.’
Given the close connection between surfing and the natural environment on which the sport depends it was perhaps hardly surprising that this new material struck a chord with surfers. But the appeal spread quickly to other manufacturers who were keen to adopt a more eco-friendly material. From winter sports equipment to furniture such as river tables and even jewellery, Entropy Resins proved successful from the outset.
But in the marine world, proven structural properties are high on the list when it comes to selecting suitable materials.
‘Our Pro-Set bio-based epoxies have been developed from a combination of our experience gained from Entropy Resins formulation work and from the tried and tested Pro-Set epoxy, which has been widely used in boatbuilding for many years in a diverse range of products from the spars for the innovative superyacht Maltese Falcon and the boom and spreaders for Mirabella V, to more than 100 Mumm 30s,’ he continued. ‘This is an epoxy that’s been around for a long time and is well proven.
‘The chemistry includes over 30 per cent bio based content with no loss in structural properties. It is a versatile, durable product that has an impressive life cycle and is available as either a laminating epoxy, an infusion epoxy or as an adhesive. Neither the resin or hardener require special treatment or procedures to use. In fact, if there were no markings on the tin you would be very hard pressed to notice any difference.’
Given the structural properties and the ease of use, these bio-based epoxies are a good example of why the transition to a greener future is accelerating. With no special handling requirements the benefits are clearly there, but even so, many in the industry believe it will take time for builders and consumers to develop confidence in the advantages that bio based resins can offer.
Like so many areas of modern construction, while any move to bio content is a welcome step forward, technology is evolving continually. And while the materials themselves are important, so too are the discussions around construction techniques as the whole manufacturing process comes under review.
‘We have worked with Spirit Yachts since they started,’ continues Johnson. ‘One of their latest builds is focussed heavily on being as eco-friendly as possible and for this we supplied Pro-Set laminating epoxy for external hull sheathing. The intention is to use Pro-Set adhesives for the structural bonding once the hull is turned over. This new 30-footer is designed to be a very eco-friendly yacht and we have been working closely with the Spirit Yachts production team to minimise the quantity of consumable materials used in the build.
‘We have also worked closely with RS Sailing on the new RS Pulse 58 electric-powered RIB and are supplying our Pro-Set bio-based infusion epoxy to this project.
‘So it is issues like this that are starting to steer the agenda when it comes to choosing the right materials to achieve a green result.’
Little surprise then, that as the green debate continues to spread throughout the sport, any business that uses composite materials is likely to be looking at bio right now.