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Research project: Greenboat

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Researching bio-derived solutions for marine composite structures is vital to the sustainability of UK boatbuilding.

With increasing pressure on petrochemical resources, coupled with health and environmental concerns, the use of petroleum derivatives for composite manufacture is unsustainable. Boatbuilding is a major consumer of structural composites but there is a very big challenge to find suitable alternatives to marine industry standard composites that are fully, or partially, derived naturally (below: flax fibre and its oil resin, linseed).

The use of natural fibres and resins is commonplace in automotive interiors, offering significant weight savings and reductions in carbon footprint. Jaguar/Landrover in the UK is an example of a market leader embracing these new materials for internal panels and linings (below: Ecotechnilin's flax sandwich is used in the F-Type's boot tray lid). But the challenge for marine use is very different to automotive.

It is important to answer the fundamental questions surrounding the mechanical performance of the candidate solutions through their life: marine composites have some of the toughest endurance conditions to be met (continual immersion, wet and dry cycling, UV ageing, temperature variations, fluid and solid impact loading). At the same time, the marine industry cannot afford large amounts of re-skilling or new tooling to process and build using these materials as typically the volume of production is very different from that seen in automotive.

The University of Southampton has unique resources in its marine expertise, multiscale testing facilities, NDE techniques, chemical analysis, and, very importantly, the quality of its students and their enthusiasm for innovation. Through undergraduate and postgraduate research projects supervised by James Blake the University has developed a reputation for understanding some of the deep rooted mechanisms of failure evident with naturally derived composites through-life (below: Computed tomography image, courtesy of μ-VIS) and are working with industry to alleviate their concerns over the use of the these materials (including support from Lloyd's Register, Princess Yachts, Composite Mouldings Ltd, Green Marine, REIDmarine, The Green Blue, RS Sailing, Matrix Composites, Amorim UK).

Related research groups

Maritime Engineering
Linum usitatissimum (Flax/Linseed)
Linum usitatissimum (Flax/Linseed)
F-Type boot tray
Flax sandwich used in Jaguar's
(red) in inseed/glass composite
X-ray CT showing internal fractures
RS800 racing dinghy at Green Marine
Students manufacturing the flax
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