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Biotechnology boosts high-performance sailing

by Sustainable Sailing 11 Jan 10:02 PST

The Europe, a high-performance dinghy originally designed over 80 years ago, is now at the forefront of a revolution in biomaterials which will reduce the carbon footprint in sailing.

Over the last year and a half, UK-based Sustainable Sailing has been building 75% biobased composite rudders and stocks for the Europe class. These world first bio-composites for high performance racing are now being augmented by their development of a daggerboard, made using the same precision engineering. This daggerboard incorporates the latest developments in bioplastic production, incorporating Checkerspot's cast polyurethane made from microalgae. Checkerspot is a San Francisco Bay area-based climate biotechnology company and Certified B Corporation that rapidly biomanufactures unique oils through fermentation of microalgae, to turn into materials, ingredients, and products.

Microalgae are single celled plant-like organisms. They are incredibly interesting and useful organisms because they quickly produce large quantities of oils. These microalgal oils can then be used by Checkerspot to build its "Cast PU" products. These "Cast PU" bioplastics are now being integrated into Sustainable Sailing's daggerboards as handles.

This is a major change as the other plastics that could be used to build these handles are all synthesised from crude oil. Crude oil is non-renewable and dug from the ground or extracted from below the seabed. This finite resource directly contributes to climate change and must be replaced with renewably sourced alternatives, which can be produced from sustainable sources.

By instead utilising microalgae oil, the need for crude oil is reduced but performance has not been sacrificed. Checkerspot's microalgae-based polyurethane can perform just as well or better than crude oil-derived alternatives and can be tailored to the end-use application. In this case, a daggerboard bioplastic that is both light and rigid.

These collaborators are now working to prove just how much better these handles are, in terms of carbon footprint. Dr Penhaul Smith, founding director of Sustainable Sailing, said "we anticipate large reductions in the carbon footprint, which will be building upon the reductions already achieved by the Chlorofoils and our move away from other petrochemical synthesised resins and polymers to bio-based alternatives. It has been a pleasure to work with Checkerspot to develop the correct bioplastic for the job and we're excited to see how we can push the technology in the future. "

Checkerspot specialises in finding useful products from different, under-explored organisms such as microalgae. They have already been producing large quantities of bioplastics for snow and water skiing through its brand, WNDR Alpine, and a collaboration with HO Sports, but this is the first time that these plastics have been developed specifically for use in the marine industry.

"We are excited that Sustainable Sailing is incorporating Checkerspot's biomaterials into their Chlorofoil product line, for performance racing dinghies," said Matthew Engler, Head of Materials Business Development at Checkerspot. "The updated daggerboards for Europe's show that we don't have to choose between performance versus sustainability. It's been a joy to work with Sustainable Sailing to bring these biomaterials to new industries, and finding a partner committed to the transition towards a post-petroleum future."

Taking technologies at the cutting edge and applying them to the marine industry is the specialist subject of Sustainable Sailing. Alongside their Chlorofoils, they are scaling up their sail recycling service and pushing the maritime industry to decarbonise faster, without compromising on performance. They are using the Europe class as their testbed, due to the ease of testing within this one-person high-performance dinghy. As a former Olympic class, they are at the forefront of innovation within sailing, while providing high quality sailing for a wide range of interests and abilities. This, alongside a wide-ranging technical specification has led to the Europe's to have a major resurgence in the UK over the last few years, building upon their historical successes.

If you are interested in knowing more about the work of these companies, or partnering with them, please contact them at Checkerspot () or Sustainable Sailing ()

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