All-electric motorboat tests the water to recycle carbon fiber | World of Composites

2021-12-08 06:20:42 By : Ms. Kee Li

RS Sailing aims to create an all-electric, rigid inflatable boat (RIB) whose production method is as sustainable as possible. After several iterations, Pulse 63 is ready to launch. #workinprogress #sustainability

The first fully electric boat using recycled materials. Pulse 63 is the first all-electric rigid inflatable boat (RIB) produced by RS Electric Boats, the sister brand of RS Sailing, using glass fiber and recycled carbon fiber in most of the main structural components. The first batch of customer ships will be launched in early 2022. Photo Credit: RS Sailing

RS Sailing (Romsey, UK) is known for producing world-class sailing boats and claims to use as much recyclable materials as possible in its production. Three years ago, the company established its sister brand RS Electric Boats, which specializes in the design and manufacture of battery-electric rigid inflatable boats (RIB)-light motor boats with a rigid hull and inflatable high-pressure air pipes on both sides of the hull for extra buoyancy. RIB is used for recreational purposes and is usually used by first responders, military operators, or rowing trainers.

Alex Newton-Southon, CEO of RS Sailing Design and Technology, explained that as automakers want to become more electrified and consider sustainable manufacturing and materials, RS Electric Boats wants to do the same in the marine market. "For us, it is obvious that electric boats are the direction of the market. In fact, the pollution level of traditional outboard engines is about 50 times that of today's cars. We want to do our part to help protect the planet," he Say. 

Pushing the market towards more sustainable advancement, material and manufacturing choices has been the goal for the past three years, as RS Electric Boats has been working on developing and commercializing its first battery-electric RIB. In 2019, RS Electric Boats launched the Pulse 58 concept RIB for the first time at the Dusseldorf International Boat Show in Germany. This demonstration ship uses several flax/bioepoxy components, including the hull, deck and console.

Since then, material decisions and overall design have been iterated at least three times-"plus a lot of adjustments to the entire ship," Newton-Thawson admitted-and finally the Pulse 63, which will be available in early 2022.

Most RIBs are powered by standard fuel-powered engines, except for small (one to two person) battery-powered designs. RS Electric Boats claims that the Pulse 63 can carry up to 8 people and is the first ship in the industry to use an all-electric propulsion for ships of the same size.

The first iteration: flax fiber. The original Pulse 58 design (shown in the picture) used a flax fiber composite hull, which proved difficult to use in commercial production. Despite this, RS Electric Boats adopted many original designs and sustainability goals and transferred them to the next generation Pulse 63. Photo Credit: Norco

The hull and overall shape of the ship must be specially designed to accommodate electric propulsion. "When you start designing a battery-electric RIB, one thing is obvious is that you can't just add an electric drive system to an ordinary boat. You have to start from scratch because the design has to make the boat super efficient, and some of it comes down to weight. Very It is important that the structure of the boat is as strong and strong as possible, just to make it as light as possible," Newton-Southon explained.

He added that the battery console is "the main structure of the entire device." The hull is a solid overall structure, and the connected deck is also equipped with batteries. There is no need for diaphragms or frames.

The 5.8-meter Pulse 58 RIB launched by RS Electric Boats in 2019 has a hull, deck, console, battery box, and seat shape. The local manufacturer Norco (Pool, UK) uses bio-based epoxy resin, natural linen fiber and on-demand Where to recycle PET cores.

In 2019 and 2020, RS Electric Boats aims to increase the output of Pulse 58 and start selling to customers. However, the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and issues with the procurement of bio-based materials have led to short delays and some design changes.

In May 2021, RS Electric Boats decided to update the brand to align with design changes and material decisions in preparation for increased production. The composite part, renamed 6.3m Pulse 63, was manufactured by MTAG Composites Ltd. (Corningsby, UK), which has worked with RS Sailing for many years in tool development and boat manufacturing. The Pulse 63 RIB sold on the market has a top speed of 23 knots and a maximum range of 100 nautical miles. It can also be customized with various optional features such as trailer columns, single point lifts, canopies and various seat configurations.

Inject dry recycled carbon fiber. Recycled carbon fiber from the MTAG Composites aerospace project was used in several perfusion structural components on Pulse 63. RS Sailing hopes to use more recycled materials in the future. Image source: MTAG Composites

The composite parts of the ship include the hull, deck, internal floor, console, engine box and hatch. However, the procurement of flax fibers and bio-based epoxy resins used in the original design proved to be more difficult than the level required for mass production of ships.

"As natural fibers and bio-based resins become more and more accessible, material decisions will definitely change in the next few years," Newton-Thawson said. Currently, the overall hull of the ship combines vinyl ester-infused glass and carbon fiber fabric. In order to reduce weight, the hull does not have a core, but is reinforced with carbon fiber layers. All other composite parts of the ship—inner deck, floor, console, engine box, and hatch—are made of recycled carbon fiber and vinyl ester, and recycled PET core material (made by Sins, Switzerland) is used as needed. 3A Composites Core Materials provided). "Currently the hull is not made of recycled materials, just to give us more time for development and testing," he pointed out.

For resins, RS Electric Boats chose more traditional vinyl esters instead of bio-based epoxy resins for a variety of reasons. One is availability. According to Newton-Southon, the production of truly sustainable resins in commercial quantities has been slower than he had hoped. "It's not just price," he said. "It's also about being able to trust the product for a long time. What will happen to these products in 10 years? Can the materials hold it? They are too new, we don't know yet. There is demand there, we Willing to spend a little more for more sustainable materials, but we need to be able to trust the longevity of the product."

It turns out that bio-based epoxy resin is difficult to use with resin infusion. "When you use any type of epoxy during the infusion process, you cannot use a reusable silicone vacuum bag," explains Newton-Southon. Epoxy resin reacts with silica gel, and a silicone bag designed to be used for 100-150 cycles may only be used 5 times. "You end up with a lot of landfills during the manufacturing process," he said. Vinyl ester was chosen as the best choice for use with silicone bags.

He added: “For now, if you conduct a life cycle analysis of the material, we think that reducing infusion waste to landfill is an important step in the right direction compared to trying to use more sustainable resins. . This process is sustainable and we minimize waste as much as possible."

Tim King, technical sales and marketing manager and project manager at MTAG Composites, noted: "Bio-based vinyl esters are coming out soon, but for products of this size, they are not commercially viable. Their production volume is relatively small."

Recycled PET core. In areas of the hull structure that require additional reinforcement, recycled PET core material from 3A is used. Image source: MTAG Composites

Regarding fiber, the recycled carbon fiber used in ships is the reused waste from the work of MTAG Composites on carbon fiber aircraft seats. "It can be directly returned to use and processed by a third-party manufacturer Gen 2 Carbon [formerly known as ELG carbon fiber from Cosley, UK]," King said.

MTAG does not chop or process fibers into prepregs, but directly inject dry recycled carbon fiber non-woven fabrics. "Considering the density of recycled fiber, this is especially difficult to do. It doesn't like filling with resin, but we came up with a successful method," Jin said.

The process was first demonstrated on the RS Neo front deck in 2019, where MTAG Composites and RS Sailing replaced traditional glass fiber reinforced materials with recycled carbon fiber.​​​ "This situation has been happening for many years, but I know that we at MTAG and Gen 2 are very happy to see the product and process move forward," King said.

Regarding the aesthetic appearance of the recycled fiber, he added, “Of course, you can cover it with a gel coat, but personally, I really like the visual effect of the recycled product. It’s nice to see the identifiable source material Used repeatedly."

Finally, “approximately 60% of the ship’s composite parts are made of recycled materials, whether it is PET core material or carbon fiber waste,” King said. All composite parts are infused under vacuum, except for some small accessories that are hand-laid with dry materials. 

Set sail in 2022. According to the manufacturer MTAG, approximately 60% of the components on the Pulse 63 are made from recycled materials. Image source: RS Sailing

The Pulse 58 tool is the basis of the new Pulse 63 tool, and MTAG Composites has changed it according to RS Electric's specifications. All tools-22 in total, including 4 solid infusion tools, 6 tools for hand lay-up and 12 silicone bag tools-are composite materials, manufactured in-house by Norco or MTAG. Taking into account the design changes of the hull, some tools need to be reworked. For some tools, special inserts are made to increase the shape of the mold.

"We have a very active mold shop inside, and some very skilled people are able to use the original prototype tool and in some cases make some considerable changes to it," King explained. The team started using these tools in February 2021, and the final tools were delivered in August.

The first four Pulse 63 ships are scheduled to be put into production at the end of this year and are ready to be displayed at the Dusseldorf International Boat Show in January 2022. Looking to the future, Newton-Southon added that the composite materials used in Pulse 63 and future RS Electric may change with the emergence of new materials and market demand. "We did it step by step, but I think one of the things we are very good at is helping the supply chain understand what products the market needs."

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