A boat made in Germany, a pedestrian bridge in the Netherlands and wooden nails from Austria might appear to have little in common, but they do share one important trait: They are all made with biocomposite materials. A look at the three winners of the 2017 Innovation Award at the European Conference on Wood and Natural Fiber Composites shows the advantages of combining the strength, durability and light weight of traditional composites with the environmental benefits of natural, renewable resources.

Green Sailing

The GreenBente24 boat gets properties like stiffness and impact and abrasion resistance from flax fibers in the biocomposite material, while cork helps provide its light weight and water resistance. Photo Credit: GreenBoats

Friedrich Johann Deimann started GreenBoats to develop alternatives to the fiberglass and styrene-based polyester resins typically used to build boats. He found eco-friendly, viable replacements with similar properties in flax fiber, cork and bio-based (linseed oil) epoxy resins.

The GreenBente24 sailboat is made from 80 percent renewable materials and is vacuum infused. Flax fibers provide stiffness, vibration damping, and impact and abrasion resistance, while the lightweight cork adds water repellency. The result is a boat that doesn’t splinter if damaged, doesn’t release toxic substances into the water and doesn’t allow water to enter the hull’s composite sandwich core. “The products have a really nice haptic in the end,” Deimann adds.

The strength and stiffness of the flax-based composite is slightly less than glass fiber laminates. But the flax fibers have half the density of glass fibers, so the green boats weigh about 100 pounds less. The renewable biomaterials are also easier on the environment, since they can be harvested and processed with very little CO2 emissions.

Although the GreenBente24 is about 15 to 20 percent more expensive than similar high-end boats made with epoxy resin, GreenBoats is seeing steady customer demand. “The first customers are already sailing happily on German seas and lakes,” says Deimann. The biocomposite material he developed for the boats is also being used to produce travel trailers in Europe.