Using Life Cycle Assessment To Inform Material Choices

15 March 2019

When Enrico Benco at GS4C (Go Sailing, for a Change) and James Starkey, Composite Sustainability Consultant, teamed up to design and build an award-winning Mini650 they proved that natural mineral fibre stood up to the technical and commercial challenges involved in bringing a sustainable composite to market.

With increased consumer demand, rising costs of raw materials and a tougher regulatory climate on the horizon, marine industry businesses are looking to innovation in design for smarter choices and improved efficiencies.

Enrico Benco’s mission to achieve zero-waste-to-landfill for the build of a Mini650, which was shortlisted for a JEC Innovation Award in 2018, demonstrated that mineral fibre (a naturally occurring volcanic rock found in most countries around the world) could provide a commercially and environmentally viable alternative to traditional glass fibre materials. Using life cycle assessment, his team uncovered why this alternative approach was able to achieve a 20% carbon reduction and those savings weren’t found where you might expect.

The Transat 650 is a compact 6.5 metre ocean cruiser with a huge downwind sail area of 100m2 that has been competing in challenging single-handed transatlantic races, known as the Mini Transat, since 1977.

James Starkey led the investigation: “Life cycle assessment (LCA) outlines the environmental impact of products and provided me with an evidence-based approach to understanding the true impacts of using enriched basalt fibre. The key discovery we made, was actually down to the way in which this material is manufactured, allowing us to use far less material than glass fibre in the final build. Without being able to really drill down in to the detail of the raw data I wouldn’t have made this discovery.”

By applying LCA, James was able to investigate the manufacturing process in detail and discovered that one of the unique features of this natural product meant that manufacturers were able to blend the material to make a product very specific to design needs. Therefore, the design team could bring into consideration the material properties that the manufacturer could offer – tensile strength, weight of material and the material’s sheer strength – and request an end product that would fit their design specifications exactly. As a result, enriched basalt fibre could be blended to give it tensile properties close to that of carbon fibre. Using it in an application that replaced glass fibre meant the team could use a great deal less of it, while still designing a product that performed to the same ISO standard.

By looking at the project from a life cycle point of view, this is a good example of how decisions made in the manufacturing stage can positively impact the use and maintenance stage. Using these alternative materials, the design of the overall structure could be considerably lighter weight, reducing engine and battery size, and the amount of fuel required on board. With all these reductions there was a significant impact on the overall carbon footprint, with a carbon saving of 20% using enriched basalt fibre and a recyclable bio-resin in the design.

James says, “A traditional glass fibre option would have required 1.387 tonnes of glass fibre and resin when compared to 1.298 tonnes for an alternative model – and so you can see from this example that material content made a big difference. In addition, it was important to recognise that the we were comparing the footprint of the mass production of glass fibre with a small production of enriched basalt fibre. Economic savings could become even more marked when using comparable scales of production in the future. This evidence wouldn’t have jumped out unless I was using life cycle assessment; it allowed me to uncover previously undiscovered findings about this natural fibre.”

Enrico was able to use this vital evidence to support the build of his Mini650 to an ISO standard out of aerospace grade enriched basalt fibre. He said: “Using life cycle assessment adds credibility to any project; when you’re investigating a potential solution such as enriched basalt fibre that goes against any established manufacturing standard you need to be able to demonstrate the solidity of your innovation.

Enrico Benco, CEO and Co-Founder, GS4C
Enrico Benco, CEO and Co-Founder, GS4C

“The sustainable composites market is one area that can reduce its environmental impact. Although this market is still in its infancy, the EU is investing substantial resources to investigate alternative solutions to landfill. Marine manufacturing needs to catch up with other sectors, such as the automotive industry, which is supported with legislation that states for EU Member States a minimum of 85% of all end of life vehicles must be re-used or recycled. The marine industry is on the cusp of an important shift towards a more environmentally responsible attitude and this is where life cycle assessment can drive the change in approach to innovative, sustainable design and manufacturing processes.”

Enrico concludes: “While environmental impact is always the priority for us, we hope that in the future business and strategic decisions will be made on the grounds of a strong and thorough life cycle assessment rather than looking just at the economic factor. Ideally the two should integrate, pushing the industry towards solutions with the smallest footprint because, in turn, this will naturally uncover more economic and affordable solutions.”

If you are interested in learning more about MarineShift360’s life cycle assessment tool and the exclusive benefits of becoming a Pilot Partner please get in touch with the team.

All businesses in the marine industry are encouraged to provide immediate input through our short online questionnaire, which will help ensure the data and processes modelled are useful industry wide.