Blog Action Day
Today is Blog Action Day. Blog what?
On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind – the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.
Kayaks and paddling may seem to have come a long way already compared to those blogging about fashion or SUV or powerboating. In many ways it is so.
We do have a lot to be proud of.
Minimal environment impact
Human power is rather optimal from an environmental point of view. The fuel may of course be produced in ways that are not optimal, but compared to burning gas, it is still acceptable.
But water and humble speeds is a good recipe even if gas or diesel is involved: according to a comparison some years ago you can ship 1 ton 160 miles on a freighter with the same amount of fuel as 40 miles on train or 1 mile on a lorry. Airplanes were not included, but would perhaps hardly get airborne on such a ration. Why is then lorrys used more and more (and on another note: why shipments by car and cargo by boat)?
Car and powerboat owners complain about high gas prices - but if you think about it - isn´t the real problem the opposite. A Swedish politician once said in a discussion: "Think about it – it cost no more than two dollars to transport 1,5 tons of metal 7-8 miles"! It is so cheap that we have traffic problems in most urban areas. In most cars there are one person. It is so cheap that industries prefer having their stock traveling on the roads instead of in a warehouse. So cheap that we at an ever increasing speed burn up the last reserves of oil in cars and houses instead of saving them as raw materials for future products, medicine etc. The last feast – after us the deluge…
Kayaks and environment
With their low weight and small size, kayaks are produced with very small amounts of raw materials.
Best is of course skin-on-frame-kayaks (or faltkayaks) built with cotton or linen and treated with natural oil paints – worse if covered in nylon or polyester treated with two-pot marine paints.
Next is wooden strip kayaks. The epoxy/fiberglass lamination is a disadvantage but epoxy is derived earlier in the production process than polyester or vinylester with less energy, and a wooden kayak contains less epoxy than a fiberglass kayak poly- or vinylester.
Next is plastic kayaks. Polyethylene is a less refined plastic produced with less energy consumption, and it can be reprocessed or burned without significant pollution.
Fiberglass kayaks is the worst. Polyester is produced at a high energy cost and with severe pollution during process. It cannot be reprocessed. Even worse if aramides like Kevlar is part of the lamination.
What about kayaks when oil is no longer available?
Of course we can all build SOF:s. But there may be alternatives. Research in biological polymers armed with natural fibers are well on its way all around the globe.
The future - corn, flax and birch bark
A French engineer published last year a paper on kayak building with flax instead of g fiberglass and polymerized starch as a replacement for petrochemical polymers. He built a couple of kayaks with similar qualities as fiberglass-polyester kayaks in all but one respect - they were lighter. He claimed that the technique are ready for mass production, but that production initially will be expensive. Some demand and turnover will be needed before it becomes competitive. Discovery Channel had a video clip showing production and paddling, but it seems to have been moved or taken down.
An article in the Swedish Ny Teknik describes methods of using lactic acid fermented corn together with flax fibers or cellulose (modified with molecules from Tamarind or birch bark), to produce green composites. The automotive industry is forerunner, but biological kayaks is not far away
…or perhaps paper?
A old/new alternative may be paper. In the late nineteenth century paper was considered a good material for boats and canoes – build from a number of layers, glued together and impregnated with linseed oil. The resulting hull was lighter and stiffer than comparable wooden hulls. The problem today the would be the shortage of quality paper. It would take hand made art paper to match the old boatbuilding paper – expensive! But who knows what the alternatives will cost...