Offshore racing

Ocean Racing - Is it time to look at the environmental impact?

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Building a racing yacht: judging the environmental impact?

Stan Thuret rightly points out in his press release that any activity that contributes to breaching the quota of 2 metric tons of carbon equivalent (tCO2e) per year per person - the value recommended by the IPCC for maintaining a liveable planet - should be called into question. The sailor also raises questions regarding the weight in tCO2e of different racing boats. This is an opportunity to study the available data.
The IMOCA 11th Hour team has carried out a complete life-cycle analysis of its latest racing beast: we learn that a 60-foot, 8-ton yacht like this one generates 553 tCO2e emissions - which is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of 26 Americans. The pollution factors involved in the construction of racing boats are multiple. For a start, these yachts are mainly built from carbon fiber. This material comes from the mining industry, recognized as one of the world’s most polluting activities. Carbon is difficult to recycle, and fibers are imported from the other side of the planet. Add to this the various metal alloy parts and electronic equipment, and you get a total mining output equivalent to that required to manufacture 130 electric cars. The IMOCA class has introduced measures in its rules to encourage the use of bio-sourced materials. However, these measures favor teams in sporting terms, under restrictive conditions and within the limit of 220 lbs (100 kg) of alternative materials. In view of the 3 t of carbon used on average per IMOCA, this is insignificant.
For other classes such as Ocean Fifty, Class 40 or Mini 650, the use of carbon is prohibited or limited. However, even with fibers that are slightly less problematic for the environment, the use of resin from the petrochemical industry and the manufacturing processes remain polluting. The processing of composite materials requires a great deal of single-use plastic, from the trays used to mix the resins, to the various layers of plastic used for vacuum bagging and, depending on the technique used, the hoses and all the consumables required for resin injection.
The prepreg carbon used in abundance in the high-tech construction of racing yachts dispenses with this injection stage, but this fabric is a self-adhesive, which leaves behind its plastic film backing. During the construction of 11th Hour, 1.2 t of waste was weighed - more than 10% of the yacht’s displacement.
There are very few boatyards in the world that build racing yachts, and the relentless prototyping of these unique boats has meant that the small number of players have been left out of the industrialization process. We also note that within these small structures, optimization of water and electricity consumption can be improved. One example: the assembly of composite parts requires temperatures close to 68°F (20°C), and this operation is sometimes carried out in cold weather in uninsulated sheds. However, shipyards do seem willing to make ...

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