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Sail Recycling: An Engineering Biology Approach

June 06 2023 - News Release News Editorial

We are proud to announce that Sustainable Sailing will be part of the latest cohort of Transport Research and Innovation Grants (TRIG), funded by the Department for Transport (DfT), in partnership with Connected Places Catapult. This grant and development support package will be used to expand the Sustainable Sails project to cover the vast majority of sail cloths currently in use globally, helping to realise the vision of a circular, bio-based marine industry. This project will be building on existing collaborations and developing new ones to further develop the potential of the Sustainable Sails recycling processes, whilst integrating an engineering biology approach to produce high value compounds from recovered end of life sails.

Sail Recycling: An Engineering Biology Approach

Currently around 2,000 tonnes of sails are produced annually, using technologies designed to survive high winds, seawater and UV exposure inherent with sailing. This leads to durable, hard-wearing equipment; however, when sails reach their end of life, there are few existing recycling pathways, while upcycling cannot cope with this volume of sails. As a result, most sails end their life in landfill. While it is possible to recycle some sail cloths currently, existing technologies are only appropriate for one or two different sail cloths and come with significant drawbacks, such as the need for further reprocessing and the loss of fibre strength. In addition, the plastics which either form or bind these sails together are generally rendered unusable as part of the recycling process.

The Sustainable Sails program is developing a recycling pathway which can cope with any sail cloth and has a completely “closed loop”, only requiring water and electricity, while returning the plastics and fibres back to the economy. This TRIG project will be carried out in collaboration with B&M LongworthFarapack Polymers and the University of Edinburgh, using each organisation’s unique knowledge and skills, to not only recycle sails, but use the plastics from these sails as feedstocks for the production of high value compounds, through advances in engineering biology.

This will ensure that sails contribute to the bio-circular economy, allowing the marine industry to develop more sustainably.

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