Building boats with "eco" fibers and discover the two boats made
Northern Light Composites: an innovative start-up
Northern Light Composites is an innovative startup researching and developing natural fibers, recycled materials, and innovative resins for sailboat construction
The young start-up was born as a spin-off from Northern Light Sailing Team-a group of sailors who have been racing on the high seas for a decade now-and from the experience of a group of former university students, with previous knowledge in sustainable composites gained through the 1001Vela Cup university competitions.
The idea of the three founders-Fabio Bignolini, Andrea Paduano and Piernicola Paoletti-is to build boats that not only perform well at sea, but are also environmentally and worker health friendly. The nlcomp team is divided into two main departments, with the first dealing with the study and optimization of materials while the other department is engaged in the design and engineering of prototypes.
The company was born in late 2019 and in the first half of 2020 launched its first projects: the first recyclable dinghy “ecoprimus” and the first sportboat “ecoracer769,” signed by designer Matteo Polli.
Northern Light Composites and the problem of fiberglass, a material from which boats are built. Composite materials normally used in boating are glass fiber fabrics “drowned” in a thermosetting resin matrix, either epoxy or polyester based. The result has excellent mechanical properties, however, analyzing the individual components of the composite material reveals all the aspects that make such a craft not sustainable. Glass fibers require high energy expenditure for their production, which takes place at high temperature. Moreover, at the end of its life, it is no longer possible to separate the resin from the fibers, and the only way to reuse a composite material is as an inert to be added to less noble materials.
Northern Light Composites: how to solve the “fiberglass” problem.
To provide a concrete solution to the “fiberglass” problem, Northern Light Composites has designed a composite material with plant-derived fibers, which reduce the environmental impact at the source because they require very little energy to make, as they are already long and aligned in nature. Regarding the matrix, Elium resin was chosen for its characteristics related to recyclability, which allow the composite to be given a new life at the end of its life. The composite core, made of PET, was also chosen by nlcomp’s design team because it ensures the possibility of regeneration at the end of life.
The composite made by nlcomp with Arkema Elium compared with a more common vinylester resin. As can be clearly seen, the latter cannot be separated and reused, while the former ensures complete recyclability of the composite.
The nlcomp lamination process
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