Is the boat which I am going to buy sustainable? There are not many dealers and even manufacturers around that can answer this question. Why? Electric or hybrid propulsion does not equal sustainability, because using recycled materials does not automatically mean lower carbon footprint. One must dig very deep to find the right answer and until recently boat builders did not even think about finding it out.
What is the carbon footprint?
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) and specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period. For instance, when you drive a boat, the engine burns fuel which creates a certain amount of CO2, depending on its fuel consumption and the driving distance. GHG is the major negative factor responsible for global warming and climate change.
Beneteau rcently started to measure its carbon footprint © Beneteau
The European Green Deal is set to prevent dramatic environmental degradation by reducing to zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. Transport including leisure vessels is one of the key areas of decarbonization and the immediate goal is to reduce GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. However, most talks about boats and ships carbon footprint are limited by discussing the use phase while often this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Seeking for the shift
Among the winners of a prestigious DAME Design Award at Metstrade 2022 was MarineShift360, a bold lifecycle analysis tool designed specifically for the marine industry.
Life сycle analysis (LCA) is a scientific method of quantifying the environmental impact of a product, service, or system across the whole lifecycle. It enables assessing of all the elements including raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, and recycling to make a valid conclusion about cumulative sustainability. Nowadays, when the boating industry desperately needs shifting from linear to circular economy, LCA tools can make this process measurable.
MarineShift360 was developed in partnership with US based ocean conservation charity 11th Hour Racing and Anthesis Group, one of the world’s largest sustainability consultancies. The development period took four years before the tool went live last April. This project intends to create an industry-wide consistent dataset to populate the tool as well as provide a platform that encourages collaboration across the marine community to better quantify its environmental impact, provide unbiased information, share sustainability best practices, and inspire positive changes.
The production of the Imoca was measured with Marineshift360 © 11th Hour Racing
Solar panels everywhere to provide enough energy © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing
Sustainable material replaces PVC © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing
“Traditionally LCA has been quite an academic subject and it has not been used as much, definitely not within the marine industry,” explains MarineShift360 director Ollie Taylor. “We see it as one of key transitional tools that industry needs to move from where we are today to where we need to be in the future. We are going to experience a massive change in the way products are made and used. LCA is one of the most fundamental tools enabling this transition. We see a lot of brands who are making claims about their green credentials that unfortunately are not backed up by the data. I guess people do audit their own data, but it would be good to comply with the standards and have a structure on how to do all these things”.
How it works
Essentially designers and manufacturers have to collect all the information about raw materials that go into the boat and input these data into MarineShift360 online templates following the boat building process. Up and downstream transport, use phase and end of life disposal are also considered. Then it goes into a calculation model where an algorithm converts materials into equivalent weight of released CO2. The impact is calculated across several categories: global warming potential (kg CO2 eq.), energy consumption (J), mineral resource scarcity (kg Cu eq.), water consumption (m3), marine eutrophication (kg N eq.), waste factor (inefficiency in processing material).
Finally, the results are reported in a configurable dashboard that allows users to deep dive into information. And the key piece of this tool is that it shows “hotspots”, the areas of the product where one needs to focus on.
Boat building has lots of unique production processes and the MarineShift360 team had to model all of them to create specific datasets. Once there is a baseline it is possible to start simulating the variables in the production system to increase sustainability of the product. Flexibility of MarineShift360 permits analyzing with various accuracy levels from rough guess to every single nut and bolt. In the end it helps to make the right decisions and avoid self-delusion. For instance, can shipyards be sure of improving their carbon footprint when using bio-based resins shipped from all around the world?
MarineShift360 aligns with ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006 standards which prescribe the calculation methods.
The Software offers precise data about the carbon footprint © Marineshift 360
In traditional LCA one must model everything from scratch while MarineShift360 worked with its industry partners to create hybrid data points that permit very quick modelling of the impact. They allow to have some variants that are, for example, useful for representing various lamination techniques. The algorithm combines surface area, raw material weight, and the type of lamination process to ensure the manufacturer takes account for not only the raw material impact, but also the production process itself.
One may think that vacuum infusion would be more sustainable than hand lamination in terms of CO2 footprint but, it is vice versa. The reason is that in the traditional process there is almost no waste other than a few brushes, buckets, and overalls. While vacuum infusion requires extensive use of non-recyclable plastic and can score up to ten times worse than hand lamination.
To demonstrate the capabilities of MarineShift360 the developers have teamed with pilot partners to assess the carbon footprint of their vessels. Next to boat manufacturers Williams from Great Britain and Greenboats from Germany it’s the International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA) whose 60 ft yachts race around the world participating in Vendee Globe and Ocean Race. There are a total of 35 yachts out there and 13 new boats are currently being built.
“Three years ago, IMOCA started to put in place its sustainability rules and we tried to understand how our boats can prepare themselves for the transition we are going through,” says association’s sustainability officer Imogen Dinham-Price. “In 2020 we decided that all IMOCA new builds must go through life cycle analysis. It was key to our tactic and our sustainability strategy. We formed cooperation with MarineShift360 and got an internal LCA person to collect data coming through from the suppliers. There are 13 different studies going on. We highlighted key areas and focused on the structural part of the construction — the rudder, the mast, the foils, and the hull — excluding fittings, sails, electronics, and hydraulics from the study. We analyzed over 100 different parts and put them through MarineShift360”.
Greenboats founder Friedrich Deimann teamed up with MarineShift360 for his Flax 27 boat © Kerstin Zillmer
It is a rather large case study with 34 yards from 6 countries involved. Initial results show that the construction of the moulds has 1.2 times more impact than the construction of the platform. They weigh around 12 t and are equivalent to 151.1 t of CO2. Also, the ratio of waste and final components while building the platform is 67,8% to 32,2%. It means that to be more sustainable IMOCA yachts must be built either with recyclable moulds, or without moulds at all.
Earlier 11h Hour Racing performed LCA for yachts built in 2021 that provided a few baseline elements for comparison. Let us have a look at the numbers. It took 34.5 t of raw material to build an 8.6 t boat; plugs and molds accounted for nearly 30% of overall carbon footprint; 1.2 t of plastic waste was generated purely from backing sheets on prepreg carbon fiber; 32% of GHG emissions could be avoided, if 100% renewable energy was used across the value chain.
Moreover, global warming potential for one IMOCA yacht comes to 553 t of CO2 (the average annual GHG per capita in Germany is 8.1 t); mineral resource scarcity is 10.300 kg Cu equivalent (enough to produce 10 electric cars); 15 900 000 MJ of consumed energy is enough to power 1400 UK households for 12 months. After obtaining such results the sailing yacht does not look “green” anymore, does it?
One third of all carbon emissions could be avoided with the exclusive use of renewable energy © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing
British tender manufacturer Williams were part of the initial pilot partner development phase of MarineShift360. They ran LCA for their bestselling model Turbojet 325 and figured out that equivalent CO2 emission counts just 9.12 t per boat. Only 38% of this amount falls to production and end of life while the rest is usage, primarily petrol consumption. Most of the production emissions are related to mouldings (34%), pump assembly (22%), upholstery and tube (~10% each). Merely 7,2% is accounted for by the engine, just 2% more than Flexiteak decking.
“Williams also focused on doing comparative studies around drive trains,” says Ollie Taylor. “When they began to run the data on electric propulsion it turned out that it is not actually better in terms of carbon emissions. Because of the incredibly low utilization rate of leisure boats the electric drive train delivers marginally worse results for the environment than the current petrol version. Sometimes LCA would give unexpected results, but it is so important for the industry to know it before going into electrification of everything, some products suit electrification, but not all”.
Give me a star
MarineShift360 constantly updates dataset and models new processes for shipyards. They work with sail and rig makers, foil manufacturers and major boat builders including Beneteau Group and Princess Yachts. According to Taylor, there are about 200 users at the moment with 15 of them paying for subscription. The cost of the annual license is just €2,400. It is a tiny fraction of the fee that one would need to pay to invite an LCA consultant.
Finally MarineShift360 demonstrates the impact of any ship on the climate © MarineShift360
Also, LCA becomes one of the fundamental pieces of boat design courses. That is why MarineShift360 works very closely with the main maritime universities in the UK and Europe to act as a bridge between boat builders and students who would like to specialize in this field.
MarineShift360 is essentially a B2B tool without public access to LCA results unless the manufacturer is willing to publish them. It means that there is no informational resource for boat buyers to check or compare sustainability and footprint of various products yet. Would it appear in the future? Most probably yes. Now unexpected hotpoints force the manufacturers to keep their LCA results confidential to avoid competitors using this information against them. However, carbon footprint legislations are currently being developed and they will eventually pass to the boating industry. Then, if one wants to trade in the EU it will be obligatory to show that the products are sustainable.
The most convenient translation of LCA results for end users would be a robust star rating system where the number of stars shows sustainability level. However, according to Ollie Taylor there are lots of challenges with this approach because it is hardly possible to set a comparative baseline. Boat A may be more sustainable than boat B on paper, but in real life both may be incredibly damaging for the environment. Eventually, product category rules and carbon footprint legislations would permit customers to compare various products and MarineShift360 will certainly have this feature in a long-term run. Until then the rule of thumb would be asking the dealer or shipyard to show LCA results for your boat of choice and look into all impact categories and phases of life to gain a better understanding of which product truly delivers the lowest impact. Hopefully, this will force them to act.