Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Green Boating at PTWBF

There were several talks on sustainable boating at the 2010 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. These included sessions on new bottom paint technology and the environmental importance of choosing a boatyard.

I attended two talks on green boating operations. The first was "A Non-Petroleum Boat" presented by Peter Wilcox. This was partially an update on current trends and also a thought experiment. Peter listed in detail all of the components of a boat that contain petroleum and then proposed how they might be replaced. Items included fuel, motor and transmission oil, fiberglass, epoxy, paint, caulking, plastics in everything including electronics and even wiring insulation.

Peter has recently built a fairly green boat name Ama Natura. The boat has been a proving platform for many of his ideas about petroleum reduction. The most practical and available solutions are bio diesel and use of vegetable based motor oils and lubricants. Peter also stressed the importance of efficiency in boat and engine design. Steps he took during his construction included drag reduction and sourcing a low rpm engine with a large propeller.

More information on Ama Natura can be found here.

The second talk was given by Dieter Loibner, the author of Sustainable Sailing: Go Green When You Cast Off. Dieter is a native of Austria and brings a European sensibility to the subject. The presentation focused on all aspects of the impact of activity on the water from fuel to sunscreen. Again, this is more of a thought exercise than a set of steps to employ. The sad truth is that many technologies are not ready for prime time. Dieter talked about a few attempts at diesel electric hybrids that missed the market needs.

It was interesting that both presenters were from Portland, a city that seems to be leading the way in green technology adoption.

Another thing I noticed was that the sessions had low attendance. They were given twice, but the sessions I attended only drew six or eight people. I found this disappointing. It seems if any boaters might be environmentally conscientious, it would be the wooden boating community.

It seems that the high cost of developing technology and the relatively small market are a major barrier to green boating product. Dieter did say that West Marine is requiring all suppliers to produce green alternative products before 2012. In the mean time the field will have to be driven by small tinkerers and the trickle down from other industries.

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