All laminates in a marine environment will permit very low quantities of water to pass through them in vapour form. As this water passes through, it reacts with any hydrolysable components inside the laminate to form tiny cells of concentrated solution. Under the osmotic cycle, more water is then drawn through the semi-permeable membrane of the laminate to attempt to dilute this solution. This water increases the fluid pressure in the cell to as much as 700 psi. Eventually the pressure distorts or bursts the laminate or gelcoat, and can lead to a characteristic 'chicken-pox' surface. Hydrolysable components in a laminate can include dirt and debris that have become trapped during fabrication, but can also include the ester linkages in a cured polyester, and to a lesser extent, vinylester.
Use of resin rich layers next to the gel coat are essential with polyester resins to minimise this type of degradation, but often the only cure once the process has started is the replacement of the affected material. To prevent the onset of osmosis from the start, it is necessary to use a resin which has both a low water transmission rate and a high resistance to attack by water. When used with reinforcements with similarly resistant surface treatment and laminated to a very high standard, blistering can then be virtually eliminated. A polymer chain having an epoxy backbone is substantially better than many other resin systems at resisting the effects of water. Such systems have been shown to confer excellent chemical and water resistance, low water transmission rate and very good mechanical properties to the polymer.
Published courtesy of David Cripps, Gurit