Renewable Matter # 09 / March-April

Go Sailing, for a Change

by Federico Pedrocchi

Travelling by sea has always changed many things in the history of our species. To encapsulate this historical fact in a contemporary acronym we could write GS4C, Go Sailing for a Change. Granted, this connection might be too far fetched. GS4C is a very young Milan-based company and perhaps the historicity of sea maybe is a too general reference. All things considered, what do all big changes consist of? 

It was a small vessel that gave up the square sail and replaced it with a mast and a piece of cloth that allowed catching the wind sideways and sailing straight. And the first submersible – that had a tendency to be a little too submerged, more similar to a non “emergible boat”– had a pedal-powered propeller. 

So, now this is the story I am telling you. There are plenty of boats at sea with carbon or fibreglass hulls. These are wasteful materials because the residues generated in the shipyard have to be thrown away and when boats come to the end of their life cycle, they too have to be discarded.

We are going to talk about technologies connected with the circular economy. This is it, so it suddenly becomes very important. Their mission is to build highly sustainable hulls. GS4C is accomplishing this with a 6.5 m vessel, mini650 class, for solo ocean racing. It builds them with mineral fibres, from basalt, to be precise. In other words, lava. There is a way to process it leading to a very stable material with standard performance. It is a 100% recyclable material, so no waste at the beginning and full hull recovery at the end of its life cycle. By the way, how many challenging races can a boat endure? If it is something like the America’s Cup, one could be enough. But we need to look at the bigger picture: if I have a non-recyclable hull, I will dispose of it; if it is recoverable I can recoup a large amount of the invested funds.

Why does GS4C invest in boat races? Because they attract a great deal of attention and so they are good pacesetters for innovations in general. This is a valid reasoning and hopefully a successful and viable one. Indeed, there are pleasure boats, but also other sectors – away from the sea – where mineral fibres (or vegetable ones like bamboo for example, the potential is enormous) allow virtuous economies. Wind turbines, for example. In Italy there are about 6,000 about to expire. If we built them with basalt fibres the advantages would be obvious, given that a 24 m turbine, built with fibreglass, produces 500 kilos of waste material.

The Milan-based company is building a network of expertise with other businesses, aimed at spreading this high-sustainability technology in many sectors where it can be applied. For example, in the automotive sector or for many sports equipment. Of course, these alternative fibres cost more than fibreglass: but it is precisely here that we have to break the spell that makes us look at the immediate costs rather than at a longer cycle that needs far-sightedness to show its economic advantages.

Furthermore, there is also the urgency of sustainability with its significant economic consequences. What I mean is, when going from Piombino to Olbia we would have to resort to tracked vehicles due to excessive evaporation, well, the sector of pleasure boats would indeed be slightly affected.



Go Sailing, for a Change,