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Huntsman Advanced Materials, is sponsoring the first ever racing boat prototype to incorporate up to 50% of natural flax fiber in the composite structure, when it takes part in the Mini Transat 6.50, the first solo transatlantic yacht race for boats measuring 6.5 metres in length.
The boat, called ‘Araldite’, is a 6.5m long and 3m wide, ergonomic, lightweight Mini Transat racing boat prototype – the smallest offshore racing boat allowed to cross the Atlantic. Designed by Regis Garcia to showcase the possibilities of incorporating flax fibers into the composite structure of an open sea sailing prototype, the boat was built at the well known IDB Marine de Tregunc shipyard in Brittany, France. With acceptance and funding received from C.I.P.A.LIN, the French Interprofessional Committee for the Agricultural Production of Flax, the project has been completed in just over 12 months. Thibault Reinhart, the main skipper and naval engineer, Julien Marin, naval architect and Garcia, co-skipper, represent the project team. As official sponsor, Huntsman has also played an active role in the technical development behind the project.
The ultimate goal was to adopt a cleaner production process whilst combining the renewable properties of flax with the well-known, high-performance characteristics of carbon fiber, without compromising the light weight or mechanical properties of the sailing prototype. In order to achieve this, Lineo, a Belgium company specialising in flax reinforcements, provided the diverse fibers, specially treated to ensure perfect compatibility between the flax and the Araldite warm curing system.
Lineo uses technology to coat flax fibers with epoxy resins in such a way that absorption of water from the flax is prevented and strong bonds between the flax and the epoxy resin are created, guaranteeing the quality of the laminate. Working closely in partnership, Huntsman research laboratories and Lineo issued the necessary laminate mechanical properties used for designing the prototype’s diverse parts, including the deck, hull, helm and toe-rails. In total, flax fiber constitutes 50% of the boat’s structure, with the remaining 50% being reinforced by traditional carbon fibers.
Commenting, Thibault Reinhart, co-owner and main skipper of the Araldite said: “Constructing the ‘Araldite’ using flax fibers represented a big challenge, especially when considering how all the other prototypes in the Mini Transat category only consider using the tried and trusted formula of deploying carbon. Since the start of this project 12 months ago, with the help of Lineo and Huntsman we have undertaken many, many trials to find and validate the right blend between flax, epoxy resin and carbon fibers, so as to realise the optimum performance for the boat. Reducing the impact on the environment is not the only advantage of flax fibers. Imbued with their intrinsic technical properties, we have high hopes for our unique sailing prototype as we prepare to take part in our maiden competition across the Atlantic.”
Philippe Christou, Huntsman Global Technical Director added: “Our involvement in this radical venture illustrates Huntsman’s ongoing commitment to creating sustainable and eco-friendly technologies. It just goes to show that flax fibers can now be considered as a genuine reinforcement composite, with the potential to take on the mass fiber market and to even penetrate the carbon market. Bio-derived composites, such as flax fibers offer potential for a reduced environmental footprint, greater sustainability and lower costs, providing advantages for an increasing number of marine applications and beyond.
He continued, “Working alongside the ‘Araldite’ boat construction team has been a real pleasure and we are glad that the Araldite system solutions used for both the pre-treatment and final incorporation of flax into the boat’s structure performed so well, meeting the exacting design engineering standards that were set, with such precision. As the official sponsor of the ‘Araldite’, we are extremely proud to be involved in this pioneering project and look forward to monitoring the team’s progress as they circumnavigate the globe in the forthcoming race sailing season.”
Huntsman worked with Lineo to win the Bio-Based Materials category of the JEC Innovation Awards 2010. Huntsman supplied the Lineo development team with resins for both the pre-treatment and final impregnation of flax fibers. The result is a flax prepreg for vibration damping applications which are particularly suited to the sports market.
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