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By SuperyachtNews

Could sustainable composites become a reality?

With insights from Azimut-Benetti and the National Composites Centre…

As identified by Chris Runciman, Research Engineer at National Composites Centre (NCC), there is an increasing adoption of composites with sustainable ambitions, but many composite materials reach end-of-life with one huge un-sustainable problem: they are not recyclable.

An example Runciman highlighted was the eco-friendly wind turbine, a familiar spinning symbol of renewable energy. Alas, the estimated composite wind turbine blade waste, as told by Runciman, is 10,000 tonnes annually by 2035. “Many of the early wind turbines are coming to end of life, but this means there are approximately 37 offshore wind farms in the UK costing £3.64bn to decommission.”

From a wider perspective, the volume of composites waste is estimated to total in excess of 75,000 tonnes per annum in the UK alone, which poses a real cause for concern when the team at the NCC have set the target for “Composite Materials to have no net-impact on the environment by 2040, and a net-zero target of 2050.”

Radical changes need to be made to achieve net-zero carbon life, and huge steps need to be made by the superyacht industry if we want to make composite hull construction a viable option moving forward. Superyacht construction has flourished from the benefits of glass fibre-reinforced plastics, and “the extraordinary strength to weight ratio of these composites has enabled these amazing vessels,” commented Runciman. This has, however, resulted in 65,000 GFRP yachts of all sizes in UK waters – 75% of which are more than 20 years old. We are not the only industry to consider the recyclability of our products, however, as Runciman also pointed out that 600 aircraft are scrapped globally each year (worth £1.5bn), and 6,000,000 cars are scrapped worldwide each year.

“I don’t want to suggest we are abandoning fibreglass, but if you want to make an ecological boat, you need to use materials that are recyclable...” - Paolo Vitelli, owner - Azimut-Benetti 

In a recent, exclusive conversation between SuperyachtNews and Paolo Vitelli, the Azimut-Benetti owner emphasised that a core focus for the group moving forwards is the development of more efficient, more sustainable vessels. “We are currently building a boat which is made of steel, as steel is a material that is easily recycled,” Vitelli began. “I don’t want to suggest we are abandoning fibreglass, but if you want to make an ecological boat, you need to use materials that are recyclable,” explaining that his organisation is studying, in detail, how to make vessels recyclable, by using monomers, rather than polymers at a cellular level.

“We are also looking into carbon fibres,” added Giovanna Vitelli, executive vice president, Azimut-Benetti Group. “We have done extensive research into carbon fibre and we are close to reusing it in order to create dedicated aspects of a vessel such as ceilings and smaller surface areas. If you look at the Magellano 50, that vessel was our first attempt to start discussing FSGC wood and bio-resins. Today, the big focus is on carbon fibre and fibreglass,” the two predominant materials. “We are looking at ‘where can I use recycled fibreglass?’, and ‘how can I recycle it?’”, Giovanna added.

“We are looking at ‘where can I use recycled fibreglass?’, and ‘how can I recycle it?’” - Giovanna Vitelli, executive vice president, Azimut-Benetti

Eventually, Azimut-Benetti would like to be building models with recycled fibreglass. “Recycling fibreglass is the target, as the monomer can be destroyed and melted again,” commented Paolo. When asked for a timeline on developing this concept, Paolo suggested just three years. “An actual boat built of monomer fibreglass would take much longer, but we are really focused on the process of how to convert construction from polymer to monomer within the next three years.”

With a 37m steel (and thus recyclable) vessel under construction, and fitted with an SCR exhaust to comply with the IMO Tier III 2021 deadline (the first in the Mediterranean) Azimut-Benetti’s Green Strategy is set to be a huge industry initiative, and game-changer for the entire maritime sector.

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