Whether it’s a response to boat owners with a passion for environmentally-friendly choices, anticipation of government regulation or pressure from environmental groups, the marine segment of the composites industry is showing increased sensitivity to sustainability in the use of FRP construction.

Within the diverse world of boat building, the recreational segment is the one to watch according to Andrew Pokelwaldt, director of certifications at ACMA and a former manager of training and development at Brunswick Recreational Boat Group.

Sustainability, however, is a broad subject and isn’t achieved through a single solution. Rather, a comprehensive perspective to decision-making in design, material selection and production methods are coming together to make progress toward sustainability in FRP applications. Weight reduction to increase fuel efficiency, closed molding to mitigate emissions exposure for workers, CAD design tools to identify waste reduction opportunities, simulated infusion to reduce resin consumption and recycling scrap before it enters the waste stream are just a few examples.

Here’s a closer look at a sampling of advances underway in design, materials and manufacturing.

Design: Using an LCA

Into the Blue, a marketing, communications and sustainability company on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, is managing MarineShift360. The project aims to develop a life cycle assessment (LCA) tool for the sailing and marine industries to advance practices that encourage sustainability. The goal is to help boat builders make design and material choices to improve efficiency and respond to environmental impacts.

MarineShift360 is a collaborative effort that is currently partnered with seven businesses: Allen Brothers, a maker of boat hardware; Arksen, a yacht builder; Emkay Plastics, a material supplier for composite boat building; Multiplast, a composite boat constructor; Princess Yachts; RS Sailing boat builders and Wessex Resins, an epoxy systems supplier. These companies are contributing data from their materials and processes for the development of the LCA tool to tailor it for the unique needs of the marine industry.

The Anthesis Group, a sustainability consultancy, is responsible for the custom build of the LCA tool, and the work is being led by LCA expert and trans-Atlantic sailor Craig Simmons. “The marine industry needs to respond to increasingly eco-conscious consumers, the rising cost of raw materials and a tougher regulatory environment,” says Simmons. “The new LCA tool will help businesses make better use of resources, improve efficiency and ensure end-of-life considerations are embedded at the design stage.”

The database measures in detail the impact of the product across all of its life stages, identifying where the greatest impacts lie across several parameters, such as waste generation, energy consumption and non-renewable resource depletion. Users select their material types and volumes, as well as their processes, from a database of more than 200 entries. The LCA tool quickly assesses and compares parts based on an environmental footprint, not only during manufacture but over the component’s lifespan. Users can adjust inputs and then take measures to reduce impacts at the design stage. The analysis avoids the conflict of mitigating one environmental impact at the expense of another, according to Simmons.