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Ecoracer30 put through her paces

The story behind the world's first recyclable sailing boat

7 March 2024

One of the speakers at Ocean Talks 2024 is  Fabio Bignolini, CEO of Northern Lights Composites (nlcomp), the company behind the world's first recyclable production boat, ecoracer30. Ahead of the event, Bignolini talks to BOAT about the inspiration and technology behind this revolutionary new yacht.

How did ecoracer30 come about?

We wanted to solve the pressing problem of the end-of-life of fibreglass, one of the most commonly used materials in boatbuilding. After years of R&D, we patented our material, called rComposite. To ensure our message resonated, we built boats using this recyclable composite, and that’s how ecoracer25 and ecoracer30 were born. Now we are making our knowledge and expertise available to everyone in the market, licensing rComposite to shipyards.

What’s special about rComposite?

We have used it to create ecoracer30, the world's first recyclable production boat. It proves that rComposite is a valid alternative to the polluting and non-recyclable traditional fibreglass. The boat is built upon the success of her predecessor: the ecoracer25 prototype that was recognized as the "Eco focused boat of the year 2022" at the METS trade show and awarded "European Yacht of the Year 2023" at boot Düsseldorf.

Ecoracer30 launch day

Who makes up your team?

We all met thanks to our shared passion for sailing and established a sailing team in 2012. After gaining valuable knowledge and expertise in sustainable composites through our university studies, we established the company in 2019. The team is composed of Fabio Bignolini (CEO), Andrea Paduano (CTO), Piernicola Paoletti (CFO), Sergio Caramel (PRO) and Alessandro Stagni (Composite Engineer), and also benefits from the expertise of ORC-winning yacht designer Matteo Polli.

Fabio Bignolini with nlcomp team members

How do most standard fibreglass yachts end up?

Unfortunately, fibreglass is not easily recyclable. As a result, many fibreglass boats are burned, sunk or abandoned at the end of their life, contributing to environmental issues. In the EU, there are approximately 80,000 abandoned boats. Projections indicate that the number of boats reaching the end-of-life is expected to exceed 30,000 boats per year by 2030: an average of over 23,100 tons of annual waste.

What other alternatives are there out there?

Besides rComposite, alternatives to GRP include bio resins combined with natural fibres like hemp, bamboo or flax. We offer three types of rComposite, each with its own mechanical properties and sustainability indexes. They all facilitate easy recycling of resin and fibres using thermoplastic resins. The main issue with the disposal of traditional fibreglass composites stems from the use of thermosetting resins rather than thermoplastics.  

How long has your patented composite been in development, and what’s it made of?

It took us almost two years and hundreds of trials. We infused resin with different materials, searching for the optimal production process. rComposite is made of a thermoplastic resin, supplied by Arkema, and a recycled core, known as Atlas HPE Core, supplied by NMG Europe. Depending on the project and the required mechanical characteristics, we include eco-friendly fibres such as Amplitex™ flax , provided by Bcomp, basalt fibres or recycled carbon fibres.

Where’s your favourite place to sail and why?

The Balearic Islands: good sailing conditions, picturesque coastlines and consistent winds. These islands hold sentimental value; with the same crew that later founded nlcomp, we competed in world championships and many Copa del Rey events. This is one of the places where we sailed and honed our teamwork skills, which have remained at the core of our company to this day.

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