NauticExpo e-Magazine - #6 - Sustainable Materials - NauticExpo e-Magazine

The Online Boating and Maritime Exhibition

The Nautical Sector Starts Thinking Green

More and more sustainable materials are used in the design and construction of new boats. Already a buzzword in other industries, biocomposites—for example jute or flax fiber—may be poised to replace non-ecological materials like fiberglass. A quiet revolution also has been going on for some time now—the transition from hard steel to textile fittings. But in the area of marine electronics waste recycling, the nautical industry has still a long way to go.

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Dyneema, Kevlar and PBO are stronger than stainless steel and about ten times lighter
Courtesy of Ropeye

You’ve probably seen them: loops of Dyneema rope, so called “soft shackles,” or blocks in which certain elements are textile rather than metal. Even textile deck fittings are entering the market and becoming increasingly popular.   This quiet revolution—the movement from hard steel toward soft materials—has been going...

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Today, we can employ such fibers in composite materials in place of fiberglass
Tara Tari and Gold of Bengal, jube fiber sailboats (Courtesy of Gold of Bengal)

Young French engineer Corentin de Chatelperron had a dream. A dream that came true in Bangladesh, where he built Tara Tari, a sailboat made using local jute fiber. His goal was to demonstrate that natural materials found around the world could replace fiberglass. During the voyage back to France, the jute held firm.


NauticExpo e-mag: Tell us how the Tara Tari project began.

Corentin de Chatelperron: In 2009, I left for Bangladesh to work in a boatyard building fiberglass boats. I rapidly began looking around for an alternate material because fiberglass isn’t very ecological. I looked into jute, the natural local fiber. Jute is a tall plant that resembles a nettle. It’s in the same family as hemp, and grows mainly in the Ganges delta in India and Bangladesh. The plant has a central woody stem surrounded by fibers used to make rope, string and potato sacks.

In France, people have been replacing fiberglass with flax fiber for some time. That’s why I asked French specialists for research help. There were also several Indian and Bangladeshi scientists who had done research into using jute fiber in composite materials. That was my starting point for looking into using jute on an industrial scale in Bangladesh and building boats with it.


For Tara Tari, Corentin replaced 40% of the fiberglass with jute fiber and added the resin (Courtesy of Gold of Bengal)

NE e-mag: Where did you use jute in Tara Tari?

Corentin de Chatelperron: In the hull. The basic procedure at the boatyard was to put fiberglass and resin into hull molds. I replaced 40% of the fiberglass with jute fiber and added the resin.

“The hull of the second boat, Gold of Bengal, is 100% jute, with no fiberglass.”

The sail is made of the usual synthetics. In Bangladesh, they use cotton sails for short, local trips. But since I had to sail Tara Tari all the way to France, I need something stronger.

For the rest, since there are no recreational boats in Bangladesh, I had to use recovered materials. For example, the mast is made of pipes from old freighters and the centerboards are bits of thick steel freighter hulls. A lot of freighters are dismantled in Bangladesh—it was perfect for me.

NE e-mag: Were you able to return to France without any problems?

Corentin de Chatelperron: Yes. It took me six months from Bangladesh to France. I was alone for four months. Then friends joined me for the other two. The jute fiber didn’t break. There were no problems with it. In fact, a friend of mine later sailed Tara Tari  across the Atlantic. This boat has been sailed halfway around the world, which proves it’s sturdy.


The hull of the second boat, Gold of Bengal, is 100% jute (Courtesy of Gold of Bengal)

NE e-mag: Then you build a second sailboat, Gold of Bengal, which is 100% jute fiber.

Corentin de Chatelperron: That’s right. With Tara Tari, I used rather rough jute cloth I found in the market. It’s usually for making potato sacks. But it’s better to use the fibers to make a special fabric designed for that application. That’s what I did on Gold of Bengal. I presented Tara Tari at the Paris Boat Show. That enabled me to find partners and financing for a research center in Bangladesh to develop a jute fabric specifically for boat building.

“It took me six months from Bangladesh to France. The jute fiber didn’t break.”

You make it directly into fabric, not thread. In thread, the fibers are twisted. For Gold of Bengal, we made a fabric with the fibers lying parallel to each other and sewn together. Performance is much better.

Twisted fibers take the shape of a spring and create a zigzag pattern. This results in much lower mechanical strength. Parallel fibers are two and a half times stronger, their maximum potential.

That’s how we built the hull of the second boat, Gold of Bengal. It’s 100% jute, with no fiberglass at all.

NE e-mag: But doesn’t the resin still come from oil?

Corentin de Chatelperron: Yes. We still have a way to go with the resin. We used polyester resin, a classic boatyard material which is not recyclable. There are newer resins that are partially biosourced. They’re still not recyclable because they’re only partly organic, but it’s a small improvement. More recently, thermoplastic resins have been developed. They can be remelted at the end of the boat’s life and reused. It’s brand new. We’re starting work on a new boat project using recyclable resin.


Tara Tari (Courtesy of Tara Tari)

NE e-mag: Why is fiberglass harmful to the environment?

Corentin de Chatelperron: You have to extract very thin fibers from the glass to make the fabric. That requires a lot of heat. The tanks are heated to over 1500 degrees, consuming a lot of energy. In addition, fiberglass isn’t produced in Bangladesh, but must be imported. That means there’s an environmental cost for transportation.

And when it’s mixed with resin, at the end of the material’s useful life you can’t do anything with it because fiberglass doesn’t burn. It’s just waste that must be buried. In contrast, even when used with unrecyclable petroleum-based resin, jute fiber can be used as a fuel. So, even if using jute and petroleum-based resin isn’t ideal, it’s still better than fiberglass.

NE e-mag: Can you also build power boats with jute fiber?


Jute in Bangladesh (Courtesy of Gold of Bengal)

Corentin de Chatelperron: Not only power boats, but also lots of other things—swimming pools or car and train parts made of fiberglass. In fact, the nautical sector represents only 10% of the fiberglass market. Boats are just one example. The potential market is enormous.

NE e-mag: Do you want to expand this model of producing locally?

Corentin de Chatelperron: Exactly. In Bangladesh, that would rejuvenate the jute fiber industry, which is losing steam. If they use it in composite materials, it could provide a livelihood for thousands, or even millions of people. And it would be a tremendous plus for the environment.

“Every region in the world has its natural fibers traditionally used by the population.”

In France, skipper Roland Jourdain built Gwalaz, a boat whose hull is entirely of flax fiber. The world’s best flax fiber is found in France. He and I are partners. Every region in the world has its natural fibers traditionally used by the local population to make cordage. In each case, they’re plant fibers chosen for their mechanical strength. Today, we can employ such fibers in composite materials in place of fiberglass.

We’re now in Madagascar, where they use sisal fiber to make rope. We’re convinced that this fiber is perfectly suited for building boats or other products. It’s the “low-tech” concept.

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The larger issue is boat graveyards; typically the engines and electronics stay on board
Electronics waste (Courtesy of Harmony Foundation)

Electronics waste has been described as the next gold rush, so enormous is the potential. But recycling is still a big challenge lying ahead for the marine industry.   The marine industry is just one of many that might benefit from a new way of doing business—creating a circular life cycle for products rather than the...

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  • The Bamboo Boat (Courtesy of Guillaume Dupont)

      The Bamboo Boat is the new foiler conceived by a team of seven young French people and whose structure is entirely of bamboo. The goal? Prove that it’s possible to construct a “flying boat” at reduced cost and using environmentally sensitive materials. We talked to naval architect Guillaume Dupont, initiator of the project.


    NauticExpo e-mag: How did the project begin?

    Guillaume Dupont: It started as a student project when I was studying naval architecture in Nantes (France), along with fellow student Basile Mayet and a carpenter friend, David Burban. Other friends quickly joined us; today there are seven of us working on it. For our final project, we wanted to build our own foiling boat. We quickly ran into an obstacle—constructing such a boat of carbon fiber and other commonly used materials is very expensive.

    The large bamboo growing around Nantes gave us the idea to use this material. We began designing at the end of March 2016, followed by construction in mid-April. Initial launch of the boat was in August.

    Which parts are of bamboo and which aren’t?

    Guillaume Dupont: The framework is entirely of bamboo. This tubular structure supports all the loads, from the rigging to the foils and other appendages. The bamboo elements are joined with linen fiber impregnated with biosourced epoxy resin, which means it’s partially plant-based.


    With the bamboo, the material is right where we need it—around the outside (Courtesy of World Bamboo)

    We made the float of standard materials because of cost and time constraints, using polystyrene foam and fiberglass. Without a float, the boat would sink when not foiling.

    We decided to make the foils of carbon because our primary goal was to test the bamboo structure. But the foils also could be bamboo, which is what we now want to do. But our main goal was to test the framework and not go off in too many directions at once. The foils are the most complicated elements because they’re precision parts.

    Did you keep the naturally hollow structure of the bamboo?

    Guillaume Dupont: Absolutely. The advantage of bamboo is its tubular shape. The tube is both mechanically and geometrically attractive in that its hollowness offers lightness and mechanical strength. Nature has handed us a terrific material. This isn’t the case with wood, like oak, which is also very sturdy, but very heavy.

    “The advantage of bamboo is its tubular shape. The tube is both mechanically and geometrically attractive.”

    With the bamboo, the material is right where we need it—around the outside. That gave us our tubular structure. Generally, boats aren’t made from tubes, but from flat elements. We wound up with an open-work hull.

    On the other hand, we didn’t use the entire length of the bamboo, which reached 12 or 13 meters. Our boat measures 3.3 meters, so we used pieces of bamboo about two meters long and 25 to 60 mm across.

    Why did you choose to build a foil?

    Guillaume Dupont: Because it’s the current trend and only available to a technical and financial elite, since carbon is expensive. Today’s foiling boats are in the super-elite, high-performance category. We wanted to prove that you can build a foiling boat relatively cheaply with ecological materials, even if it’s heavier and slower than a carbon Moth. Of course, carbon fiber is mechanically the best. It’s light, resistant and rigid. But bamboo isn’t bad either. For example, it’s better than steel.


    The Bamboo boat project (Courtesy of Guillaume Dupont)

    How fast can the boat go?

    Guillaume Dupont: Until now, we’ve been in the test phase and have concentrated on the boat’s stability. We’ve gone as fast as 15 or 20 knots, but could theoretically go faster. Moths can reach 30 knots.

    What are your next steps?

    Guillaume Dupont: We’d like to continue in the same vein and build a foiler that is entirely biocomposite, foils and float included. We’re considering several options, including bamboo fiber, wood or linen fiber foils. The goal is to put a product on the market. But it wouldn’t be a Moth, which is technically difficult to sail.

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    The NO PROFILE boat lift system (Courtesy of NO PROFILE Boat Lifts)


    The boating industry has seen increased demand for dry vessel storage space. At the same time, new technology is being developed to handle these needs, like the NO PROFILE Boat Lift system.


    As vessels get larger and more technically advanced, the boating industry is seeing the development of additional stacking systems.

    “This has led to the explosion in dry stacks and the newest shift in marinas, as I see it, is the need for boat lifts. We have seen marinas removing wet slips and adding boat lifts to meet the demand of boat owners with these larger boats,” stated Chris Way, CEO of NO PROFILE Boat Lifts.

    The Florida-based company designed its 35K No Profile boat lift system to facilitate one of the Westrec Marinas dry stack operations encompassing a formidable pile of 608 boats. Its use significantly speeds up boat launching and retrieval. The main advantage of this unique boat lift is that it eliminates the superstructure typical of existing systems, removing obstructions and the visible clutter spoiling the view. The hidden lift machinery enables the boat owner to walk completely around the vessel for easy access and maintenance. Its flat platform and removable modular components help protect it from hurricane or flood damage.

    Aesthetically Pleasing Systems

    The firm has seen further demand from marinas around the world, including Sweden, Bermuda, Latvia and Jordan. Looking to the future, Way added, “We are also working on a project that will come online in the spring that will include 14 condos that will be built over the water with our No Profile boat lift system creating the ground floor.”


    No visual pollution with the NO PROFILE boat lift system (Courtesy of Garland & Garland)

    NO PROFILE Boat Lifts has been involved in projects ranging from clients seeking a lift for individual use to much larger endeavors. Way points out that its Bermuda project is the third on the island, as marinas now desire more aesthetically pleasing systems. “With NO PROFILE Boat Lifts as the alternative, I expect a lot more architects will come knocking on the door,” he adds.

    The installation in Jordan is similar to the one designed and built for Westrec Marinas. “The only difference is they want a service lift that they can roll trailers onto and launch boats and retrieve them. We are still working on the engineering details to build this lift, but I expect to have things ready to go by the end of January.”


    Øyvind Bordal

    Øyvind Bordal is a norwegian writer and sailor, based in Denmark and Caribbean.


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    Kevin Green

    Kevin Green is a Sydney-based yachting journalist who contributes to international boating publications.


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    Celia Sampol

    Celia Sampol has been a journalist for more than 15 years. She worked in Brussels and Washington for national medias (Agence France Presse, Liberation, Europolitics). She’s the editor-in-chief of NauticExpo e-magazine and MedicalExpo e-magazine.

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    Samantha Fisk

    Samantha Fisk worked at RINA for 7 years and has now gone into freelance for European magazines.

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