Composites from keel to masthead

Solvay’s composite materials have been selected by a racing boat designer to build not only the ship’s structure, but its sails as well. Lightweight carbon fiber, from keel to masthead.
Racing boats are high performance machines. As such, they need to be built with high performance materials. Such is the reasoning that led the high-end Spanish boat manufacturer Balance Arquitectura Naval to collaborate with Solvay for the design of its new racing catamaran, Balance A+.

Going for the stiff wing

Catamaran graphic 1

Solvay’s Composite Materials business unit is already quite present in the marine market, with the specific domain of racing boats being an excellent way of showcasing its materials’ performances. 

“Balance Arquitectura has a global presence and a good reputation; we’re very proud to work with such a highly regarded company,” says Carlos Simarro, Account Manager at Composite Materials, Solvay in Madrid. “The marine market is small but provides good visibility, especially with high profile races like the America’s Cup. Many prestigious racing teams use our materials for their boats.”
What’s new with the Balance A+ catamaran is that Solvay’s carbon fiber was used not only for the structural parts like the hull, but also for the sails. Or to be precise, the wingsail, an aerodynamic rigid structure similar to an airplane wing that replaces conventional sails – also simply called the ‘wing’. “Using rigid wings is an increasingly frequent solution for racing boats,” explains Carlos. “They are more efficient to capture wind power, whether light or strong.”

The marine market is small but provides good visibility for our materials, especially with high profile races like the America’s Cup. Many prestigious racing teams use our materials for their boats.

Carlos Simarro, Account Manager, Composite Materials, Solvay

Easy curing thermosets

The resin selected for this catamaran’s is the VTM-264 pre-preg, a lightweight and highly resistant type of Long Fiber Thermoset (LFT). In addition to its high performance characteristics, it offers the advantage of enabling low temperature curing without requiring an autoclave.

Thermosets need to be cured for the pre-preg to become rigid, and the VTM-264 only requires a temperature of 65°C. “Thanks to this, you can cure large parts without having to use very expensive specific equipment, which sometimes needs to be custom built,” continues Carlos. This enables the boat’s unique manufacturing, for maximum stiffness and minimum weight, giving the catamaran a definite racing advantage.

Racing sail boat on the water

Resins, nice and smooth

The family of VTM 260 resins are given different names according to their viscosity, which determines the quality of the fiber impregnation. In this case, the medium viscosity VTM-264, which impregnates a reinforcement weight of 200 to 400 grams per square meter, was chosen for its characteristics that are well suited for making sails. Carlos explains: “For wings, you need low porosity to obtain a smooth and regular surface without any imperfections and free of internal voids during the consolidation of the laminate. If the temperatures of the curing cycle aren’t right, the resin doesn’t impregnate the fabric properly, which will lead to poor part quality, and the wing won’t be as efficient.”
Of course, these are expensive, high-profile materials that aren’t likely to be used for your everyday leisure boat. But in the ultra high performance world of racing catamarans, everything has to be 100% perfect – and Solvay has just the materials for that.