fbpx

Algal inspiration

Among the green innovations on show at the Cannes Yachting Festival 2023 were the ingenious surfboards under the Paradoxal brand, which are created entirely of beached seaweed and 3D printing.

Written by Jeni Bone
Photography by Paradoxal Surfboards

04 October 2023

Advertisement

Passionate surfer and business graduate, Jeremy Lucas established a 3D printing consultancy firm in 2019 with a business partner. It was successful, but labour-intensive and margins were low, so they explored the possibility of producing a high-value object using this technology.

The inspiration for a new material and the concept of a high-end product struck him while he was out surfing in waters heavily contaminated by green algae in Brittany, off the northwest coast of France: surfboards entirely made from algae.

In 2020, Lucas registered the brand Paradoxal Surfboards to reflect the paradox of the sport of surfing. “While it raises ecological awareness, it is practised with equipment that has a negative environmental impact,” he explains.

“Surfboards are often made from polluting materials and the production of a surfboard emits between 170 and 270 kg of CO2 per unit. It’s estimated that boards contribute to the production of 15,000 tonnes of non-recyclable toxic waste annually.

Advertisement

“The main culprits behind this pollution are polystyrene and polyurethane foam, as well as resins and fibres often derived from the petrochemical industry.

“Surfboards typically have a lifespan of about two to three years, equivalent to that of a smartphone but with a carbon footprint eight times higher.”

The project was delayed due to the pandemic, during which time Lucas, like millions of others, adapted to find other employment. Then in March 2023, he relaunched Paradoxal Surfboards, establishing partnerships with several Breton companies and institutions for the collection of green algae and conversion of the substance into dried powder.

“3D printing allows for the creation of complex and unique designs for the boards, which is nearly impossible with traditional artisanal or industrial manufacturing,” Lucas continues.

The production process is both straightforward once established and relatively complex to implement, due to requiring a certain level of multidisciplinary expertise, as Lucas explains.

“Three key elements were crucial to realising this project. First, Board Design – Computer-Aided Design (CAD) / Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM). Starting from a blank slate and designing a 3D-printable surfboard is no small feat.

“We had to strike a balance between a relatively innovative design that uses just the right amount of printable material for cost-effectiveness within a specific production timeframe, all while considering the board’s performance, its final weight, balanced load distribution, and minimal post-production work. The economic model hinges on this.”

“Then there’s the 3D Printing and Development of the New Material. Once designed, the board must be printed with the appropriate material (a large-volume 3D printer is used). In our initial prototype, the core of the board, which replaces traditional foam blanks, is printed in two parts and later thermally joined.

“Setting up the printing parameters is complex and requires some iteration to achieve a top-performing final product. For this first prototype, we used PLA (Corn Starch Polylactic Acid), but we are currently developing a new thermoformable material based on green seaweed powder combined with recycled Dyneema from offshore racing boats for future models.

“Finally, there’s the shaper’s expertise. Lamination after printing the internal structure, the board needs to be made waterproof by covering it with fibreglass and impregnating it with resin, which is the lamination step. For this initial model, with relatively large structural cells, handling the fibreglass posed challenges.

“Therefore, we initially adopted a reverse lamination process by machining moulds (the negative shape of the board) using CNC to incorporate the structure and then laminate it. This complex step involved collaboration with several engineers and technicians specialised in composite materials in Brittany.

“The choice of 3D printing technology has several advantages, including the ability to use various bio-sourced materials, increased board strength through precise reinforcement in identified weak points, lower energy consumption compared to traditional production methods, and the reuse of all material waste.

“Despite being time-consuming at present, 3D printing remains an energy-efficient technology that enables the creation of highly intricate designs that are nearly impossible to achieve conventionally by an artisan.

“3D printing allows for the use of a wide range of materials with different properties. We drew inspiration from biomimicry, in particular, examining the structure of green algae.

“Given that our project aims to 3D print surfboards using green seaweed washed ashore, we found it fitting to take inspiration from the natural world in designing the internal structure of our boards. Currently, we are developing new designs, all still inspired by the principles of biomimicry.”

Aspiring to become the third global player in designing, manufacturing, and marketing surfboards using 3D printing, using stranded algae as the material, Lucas intends to measure the environmental and energy impact of his solution.

He hopes that this innovation will push forward the surf industry while reducing its impact on the environment. “The ultimate goal is to create 100-percent environmentally-friendly boards made from algae.”

Paradoxal Surfboards is positioned as a high-end brand and each board costs around 1,000 Euros. Following a successful showing in Cannes, pre-orders are set to launch in the summer of 2024.

 

paradoxalsurfboards.com

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement