Sustainable Sailing has won the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Startup of the Year Award 2023, for developing the ‘world’s first true sail recycling technology.’

Consultancy firm Sustainable Sailing says the technology can recycle 90 per cent of all the different sail cloths on the market, in a closed loop. This solution for a 2,000 tonne per year waste stream, mostly from the boating and leisure marine industry, has been sorely needed since the invention of Dacron sail cloth in the 1960s.

“We’re really proud to have won the Startup Award,” says Sustainable Sailing founding director Sam Penhaul. “To win the award in Glasgow, one of the historic hubs of maritime innovation, feels very appropriate. We’re looking forward to our next steps in the business. Massive congratulations to all the shortlisted and winning companies and individuals.”

Last year, MIN reported that Sustainable Sailing had developed a proof-of-concept 75 per cent bio-based composite rudder blade. The newly developed alternative to fibreglass could dramatically reduce the boating industry’s carbon footprint.

Sail cloth recycling

Sails are designed to be hard-wearing and resistant to all the abuse of high-performance racing but this has come at the cost of their being very difficult to manage at their end-of-life. While about 1 per cent of sails are recut or repurposed into bags and jackets, the majority are stored or landfilled.

Sails in landfill leach microplastics and heavy metals, with even the smallest sail taking hundreds of years to degrade. However, by combining recent advances in chemical and biological engineering, Sustainable Sailing says it can recover high-quality components of these sails, with the potential to return the components into sails.

The IET is a UK-based multidisciplinary professional engineering institution, with offices worldwide. IET has presented awards in a wide range of categories since its inception seventeen years ago and retains a major focus on technologies building a more sustainable future.

Ed Almond, IET chief executive and secretary, adds: “The Excellence and Innovation Awards shine a spotlight on the ground-breaking innovations and best practices in engineering, science and technology, and the fantastic trailblazers who are changing the course of our future.

“Congratulations to each and every one of our winners. With your skills, commitment and passion, you are proof of the positive difference that engineers can make in transforming our world for the better.”

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