Published: Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Mike Fulton

ORACLE TEAM USA, winner of the 34th America’s Cup, and Boeing are collaborating to recycle 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of carbon fibre form USA-71, a yacht built for the America’s Cup campaign in 2003. The hull and mast of the racing yacht will be processed and repurposed, a first of its kind. It is likely to be the largest carbon structure ever recycled.

ORACLE TEAM USA and Boeing, working with their research partners, will utilize a technique developed to recycle composite materials from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which is 50 percent composite by weight and 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similarly sized aircraft. Composite materials allow a lighter, simpler structure, which increases efficiency, and they do not fatigue or corrode. In yachts, composite construction also provides the ability to develop a lighter vessel that is both stronger and stiffer at the same time.

“The introduction of composites in yacht construction was a major step forward in our sport. The materials and processes have continued to evolve, allowing us to build the high-tech, high-speed AC72 catamarans raced in this year’s America’s Cup,” said Chris Sitzenstock of ORACLE TEAM USA logistics. “We now have the opportunity to work with Boeing to take the next steps in composite recycling. This will help reduce our environmental footprint. We will also look to recycle remaining carbon components from our other yacht builds.”

Americas Cup Winner To Recycle Racing Yacht 1

“Boeing leads the commercial aviation industry in increasing the use and recycling of composites to improve aircraft fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of market strategy. “We are very pleased to now work with ORACLE TEAM USA, which transformed the science of sailing to win the America’s Cup, to advance sustainability and the science of composite recycling.”

Boeing and ORACLE TEAM USA will work with the UK's Nottingham and MIT-RCF, a South Carolina company focused on repurposing carbon fibre components. USA-71’s hull will be cut into 4-foot sections and the mast will be chopped into manageable pieces before it is processed. About 75 percent of the recycled composites will come from the hull and the other 25 percent from the mast.

Through these processes, Boeing and ORACLE TEAM USA expect to gather data about the mechanical properties, costs and time flows to recycle sailing-grade composite materials in comparison to aerospace-grade and automobile-grade composites. The companies have not determined the post-recycling use of the yacht’s carbon fibre, but potential end uses include consumer and industrial products.