Hand Glassed, High-Performance Surfboards
The blank is the foam core of a surfboard, typically made from either polyurethane (PU) or expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. It comprises ~26% of the carbon footprint of a surfboard.2
Performance of Recycled Blanks
Both Marko (EPS) and Greenfoam (PU) both claim that the performance of the recycled content blanks is on par with Blanks made from virgin petroleum. They have a comparable feel for shaping, they are nearly visually identical, and perhaps most importantly, they ride identical to their older ‘virgin’ blank cousins, so the surfer will feel no difference.
There is a debate about the performance of EPS vs PU blanks. EPS is certainly stronger and more durable than PU, but some surfers prefer the ‘feel’ of PU vs. EPS. While other surfers may disagree on performance benefits, everyone agrees than an EPS/epoxy combination will have significantly better durability than a PU/polyester combination.
Environmental Benefits of Recycled Blanks
Lifecycle data on EPS production suggests that ~70% of the impact of virgin EPS comes to the extraction and processing of raw materials used to make the foam. The final step of ‘blowing’ foam used by blank manufacturers uses much less energy and accounts for about 30% of the total impact. Thus the best way to reduce the impact of foam is to use recycled feedstock materials.
However, there is an impact associated with the recycling process of EPS and polyurethane foam. The impact of collecting, transporting, and reprocessing waste EPS foam is small compared to the impact of extracting oil and refining it to produce virgin petroleum-based foam. A 60% recycled content EPS blank produces about a 40% total lifecycle reduction in environmental impact.
Another significant impact of a surfboard comes from the resin used to laminate the fiberglass, comprising ~ 22% of the CO2 impact from a PU/PE board, and ~ 37% from an epoxy/EPS board.2 The most common types of resin are Polyester and Epoxy. Most surfboards use polyester resin because it is very easy to work with and has been the industry standard since the 1960’s. A smaller percentage of surfboards use epoxy resins.
In general, epoxy resins are technically superior to polyester resins because they are stronger, more durable, and have significantly less toxic emissions. However, polyester resin remains the industry standard because it is very inexpensive and builders are extremely familiar with using it. Epoxy resins are more expensive and use slightly different construction techniques that are less familiar to builders.
The newest development in resin technology is to replace some of the petroleum chemicals in the resin with chemicals derived from biological materials. For example, Super Sap made by Entropy Resin is an epoxy resin partially made from the waste byproducts of the pulp and paper industry and the biofuels industry, with total biological content varying between 25-50% depending on the specific resin used.
Performance of Bio-Resin
Bio-resin epoxy resin performs essentially the same as pure petroleum-based epoxy resins. Epoxy resins generally produce a surfboard with superior strength and durability than polyester resins. Epoxy resins do not shatter in the same way as polyester resins. The flex and surfing benefits of epoxy vs. Polyester is a matter of personal preference, with some people (and pro surfers) preferring epoxy boards over poly boards.
Environmental Benefits of Bio-Resin
Compared to polyester resin, all epoxy resins have dramatically less ‘toxic’ emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). This is obvious in terms of the smell of the resin. Polyester resin production smells bad and a respirator is mandatory for the workers who use it, whereas epoxy resins are now available with zero-VOCs and do not require any special ventilation or breathing equipment. The overall effect is that epoxy resins are better for human health.
With regard to CO2 emissions, which is not a ‘toxic’ emission, epoxy and polyester resins have roughly equivalent emissions on a lifecycle basis. The only way to significantly reduce CO2 emissions is to make resin with a biological or recycled component. Currently, Super Sap is the only commercially available epoxy resin with biological content (~15-50% depending on the model). Lifecycle Analysis of Super Sap shows at least a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions. This makes bio-resins significantly better for the environment than petroleum resins.
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