For a long time, little was heard from the Beneteau Group about new technologies, sustainable approaches and the use of new ecological materials. Finally, at the Cannes Yachting Festival 2022, Gianguido Girotti, Beneteau’s Deputy CEO and Chief Executive Officer of its Boat division, presented the new sustainability strategy of the world’s largest leisure boat builder.
With the comprehensive concept, the shipyard group aims to make the entire manufacturing process more sustainable over the next 10 years. Together with French resin manufacturer Arkema, Beneteau has developed a prototype First 44 that will be fully recyclable. This is the beginning of an extensive transition – internationally and in all segments. float spoke with Gianguido Girotti personally about the plans of the boat industry giant.
float: Gianguido, you have developed a new recyclable material together with Arkema. What is it all about?
Guianguido Girotti: Our main focus is on the fiberglass composite. Until now, no composite material could be heated and both components (fibers and resin) separated again afterwards. We chose Elium from Arkema, a resin that allows us to be 100% recyclable.
How does Beneteau work with Arkema?
We have contracted to fit the new Elium resin into our manufacturing processes. Each partner has their expertise. Not every resin behaves the same in processing. So we have to adjust series production accordingly. That’s not an easy task.
Is bio-based material also used?
We only use biofibers in some small, non-load-bearing parts, for cabinets, for example. Here we use bio-based resins with hemp fibers. These fibers have the advantage of growing quickly and locally. From a global sustainability point of view, this is very interesting.
In recent years Beneteau co-funded the Arkema trimaran. This involved design and materials research findings for the processing of the Elium resin in series production, right?
Yes. With the trimaran (which very successfully takes part in the current Route du Rhum race) we wanted to know how to develop a process that we could scale up to the whole system. We don’t just want to build a single boat sustainably. We want to make the entire production chain sustainable. Our main goal is to industrialize the new process and find the right ways in industrial adaptation.
How does the manufacturing process with Elium resin differ from the known process?
You can’t simply replace conventional resin with Elium resin. We have to integrate it exactly into the manufacturing process. The manufacturing process itself is based on our joint development with Arkema, and of course we don’t disclose that. At the Paris Boat Show 2022, we will have our own booth on sustainability at Beneteau Group and we will be able to say more.
The first boat made of fiberglass and Elium resin is the Beneteau First 44. The hull and deck are already finished, and the interior is currently being built. Will the boat be ready for the Paris Boat Show and presented there?
Yes, it will. We have managed to achieve the same weight as the conventional boat and the same mechanical properties. I am very happy about that. We will keep the First 44 in St. Gilles [in the Vendée; float] to show the press that the boat has the same performance and behavior as a „normal“ boat.
We will also see the first sustainable First 44 at boot Düsseldorf 2023?
Yes. The First 44 will be presented for the first time in Paris and then be on display at boot Düsseldorf.
What about the production facilities in Poland? Are you going to change the process there as well?
Yes. Among other things, we are building Delphia in Poland, which is a particularly sustainable electric boat. From 2024, it should be fully electric. We are also thinking about using Elium resin here. We’re tuning the whole process, but Delphia will be at the forefront – alongside the sailboats.
How will that be received by customers?
I think we have to take responsibility as a shipyard. If you’re a leader, you have to live up to your responsibility. We are really serious about being sustainable.
There is a change in the mindset of boaters. There is now a much higher awareness of protecting the oceans and waters. Four years ago these would have been early adopters, but today this attitude is already normal.
That’s a very big transformation process …
Yes, it is a long process. It’s not just us who are involved here. We buy a lot of things: machines, technology, components. We therefore also want to know: What is the CO2 footprint of our suppliers? Where are the biggest CO2 burdens in the entire process?
In what time frame is Beneteau thinking?
It will take at least 10 years to convert the entire process. We have also been reviewing supplier production for some time. When it comes to wood, we don’t make any compromises that could have a bad impact on the forests. We only use material from suppliers who have an ecological approach, own the land themselves and reforest it so they don’t overuse the ecological cycle.
What about teak?
The situation in Burma is forcing us to find new solutions. We are switching to alternative solutions. We have invested 1.5 million Euros in a machine that produces synthetic teak. The next big step is recycling individual pieces. We are questioning all processes. It goes all the way into design.
How many employees are involved in this conversion process at Beneteau?
It’s an extensive development and innovation process. In design, marketing and production, we have around 350 people working on it. In different ways, everyone is involved at the end.
How big is the sustainability team?
The team that is intensively involved consists of about 50 people. These are experts from the various fields. We don’t build a single prototype, we rethink the entire design and manufacturing process! That’s why it is a big project and it is integrated more and more into the group process.
You say it will take 10 years. In that time, will Beneteau have innovated the entire production process?
It’s a long time, and a lot will have changed by then.
It’s also about reducing the CO2 footprint in production, right?
When looking at the carbon footprint it’s not just the production process. When it comes to the materials you buy, the question is: Where do they come from? What is the delivery route? By railway, by sea, by truck? We now start with a model for material procurement, continue with the production process and end with the life cycle. No one has done this before us in such a deep detail. We want to develop that as a reference and understand exactly how we can optimize the processes.
For one boat, that’s about six months of work for one person full time. We have 150 models in total. We therefore need to develop very precise benchmarks for similar products: For a catamaran, a monohull, an outboard, a flybridge boat. Then we scale up and down based on those dimensions.
Let’s look at the buyers and what they want: Currently, most of them want to be fast on the water. The boat should be big, and it should be luxurious. That doesn’t go well with sustainability: you need more material, bigger machines, more energy.
If people want to be very fast, you have to tell them that this reduces the time in motion and the range. And explain to them that they use five times as much energy. So that can’t be the right answer for the market.
Let’s look at the Mindful Cruising concept from Delphia. Or Beneteau’s trawlers, which already have a slower boat concept. We have also been able to slow down some flybridge yachts because we are more focused on a sustainable attitude. Our catamarans with flybridge can already save 30% in emissions and consumption. The trend is clearly going in this direction.
Until recently, the thought of an electric car was a nightmare, because you thought you were stopping halfway. You have to change your attitude. You can drive long distances, but you have to plan differently. We can’t force customers, but we can convince them. That’s why we need pilot projects: to change the technology, to develop the technology further, and to prepare for the next big step. The change will come, the entire industry will have to change.
Speaking about electric motors: Do you work with other e-motor manufacturers besides Torqeedo?
We work with different suppliers, we are not married to anyone. There’s a lot going on right now. We are cooperating with Vision Marine Technologies for the boating outboard, with Torqeedo for the monohulls and multihulls. And with Volvo Penta, we are working on a project for a hybrid engine. This drive will be the game changer of the coming years.
How do the sustainable materials impact you financially?
The sustainable Elium resin is two to three times more expensive. That adds up to maybe 20,000 Euros for a 500,000 Euro boat. So the resin is not that relevant in terms of cost. But the impact on the environment is huge. It will become even bigger, the more parts of the production get integrated into our transformation process. That’s where I put my focus: on the impact of the whole Transformation.