Greenboats has just brought on board the French family-owned company Depestele as a shareholder. This move was crucial for a strategic investment: The Bremen pioneer for sustainable composites needs liquid capital to purchase machinery, aiming to significantly expand and streamline its production. Besides the financial input, the partnership secures access to increasingly popular raw materials.
Flax plantation in France © Depestele
Production of flax fibre © Depestele
Greenboats has made a name for itself by producing environmentally friendly composites for boat hulls. An essential ingredient is flax, used similarly to fiberglass in GRP. The investor, Depestele, logically hails from the center of flax cultivation – the northern French Normandy.
The new shareholder of Greenboats has been marketing flax since 1850 and has become the most significant market player in Europe. Around 750 Norman farmers are contractually tied to Depestele. They cultivate an area of 13,000 hectares in Northwestern France. The French have been supplying Greenboats with raw materials for their eco-composite for some time, and now they have become co-owners of the company.
Friedrich Deimann © Kerstin ZillmerFriedrich Deimann
of Greenboats has long valued the expertise of the traditional company, stating, „Depestele is currently the only company that can supply untwisted yarn.“ This yarn is crucial for the German pioneer of Natural Fiber Composites (NFC instead of GRP) for the laying of flax mats, which in turn become laminates and sandwich panels. The Bremen-based company has been building not only boats but an entire production process for sustainable flax-based composites with bio epoxies for years. Friedrich Deimann has been developing these composite materials for many years, working together with the Bionics Department at the University of Bremen
. „It’s complex,“ Jan Paul Schirmer of Greenboats said in an interview with float
The hull is made of flax composite material © Greenboats
Friendly relations exist with Depestele
Furthermore, the relationship with the Depestele family is genuinely friendly. „They also appreciate us because we don’t just want to resell their product but refine it,“ says Jan Paul Schirmer. Thus, the conditions are perfect for even closer collaboration. The machine, which will start operating at a new (not yet disclosed) location in Germany this year, is a 40-meter-long panel production line – the panels are produced by combining fiber mats with natural resins and then pressing them.
Panels made of different natural fibres © Greenboats
According to Greenboats, the new machine can press composite plates up to 6 x 2.45 meters. These plates are attractive to large buyers, such as shipyards. A prime example was Boris Herrmann’s racing yacht, Malizia, which incorporated parts made from this material.
„With it, Greenboats could equip the interiors of five thousand 30-foot yachts annually,“ Schirmer provides an impression of the capacity. More importantly, the plant scales both the quantities and the costs: the plates can be produced up to 80 percent cheaper.
The first Flax 27 on the river Weser © Kertin zillmer
Could Greenboats even build that many yachts? Schirmer declines. „We want to industrialize this material.“ Meaning, it’s not just about boat building. In addition to the shipyard, which currently offers the Daysailer FX27 with a flax fiber hull and cork deck, Greenboats also operates a B2B distribution platform for the eco-material. Products from Greenboats have already been used for caravan walls, motor cowls on wind turbines, and covers for electric car charging stations.
Soon a requirement for alternative boat-building materials?
„The global composite market is a 100 billion dollar market,“ says Jan Paul Schirmer. Yet many people are unaware of how composites dominate their daily lives, „and how much of it is toxic waste.“ The lack of satisfactory recycling for GRP and especially for carbon fiber composites (CFRC) for boats was a significant reason for Jan Paul Schirmer and his partner, the boatbuilding master Friedrich Deimann, to found Greenboats.
Time is on Greenboats side, Deimann is convinced © Kerstin Zillmer
So far, scaling up the operations has been challenging because NFC is still considerably more expensive to produce. Depestele’s involvement also shows that alternative financing seems to be a necessity in the alternative material industry. Nevertheless, the founders of Greenboats are convinced that time is on their side. „The European Industry Association EBI has hinted that from 2030, there might be a requirement to use alternative materials in boat construction,“ says Schirmer. Greenboats is working towards this.
Schirmer emphasizes, „We’re taking a significant risk here.“ But the demand will inevitably grow. Even if Greenboats primarily plans to become a supplier of semi-finished products of sustainable material for all industries, they always want to retain the workshop. Not least for the extensive Research and development projects (most recently with AIRBUS) and as a showcase for industry and customers of what’s possible.
For the Imoca Malizia some of Greenboats material is used © Greenboats
There’s no shortage of positive feedback: „When people experience our products at trade fairs or events, they often can’t imagine buying a GRP product anymore.“ The costs and scalability have always been the main issue. But this is expected to change with the new production and partnership with Depestele. Schirmer is convinced that, when considering the entire process, the costs for sustainable composites are already lower today than for conventional GRP or CFRC. „If you look at the whole production process, manufacturing fiberglass is five times more energy-intensive than flax.“