Organisation - February 28, 2011

Have sun will sail

Friesian students build biobased solar boat. This boat is not only propelled by sun energy but also built entirely with sustainable materials. A first for students of Van Hall Larenstein, this self-built biobased solar-powered boat called 'Sinnekrêft' will be their flagship in the Solar Boat Challenge. 'Something unique is taking place here.'

VHL students building their biobased solar boat
The green sleek body stands on a wooden frame in a corner of the environmental hall in Van Hall Larenstein in Leeuwarden.
Environmental science students Henk Hartman, Willem Bakker (both third years), Remco Elzinga and Martin van de Riet (both second years) have put a good many hours of their leisure time into it. Elzinga runs his hand briefly over the bow which will very soon be slicing the waters when the Friesian boat is launched. 'It's very thin and razor-sharp. This is how it should be, to give as little resistance as possible.'
The six-metre long Sinnekrêft (solar power) is made entirely from biomass. As such, it is rather unique in the Dutch sailing world. It will appear this summer at the start of the Dutch Open Solar Boat Challenge, the Dutch championships to be held in the province of Zeeland. Next year, it will blaze its way in the (highest) A-category of the Frisian Solar Challenge. This international solar boat race, held once in two years in the province of Friesland, is considered as the world championships for solar-powered boats. The A-category features teams with self-built single-person boats. In 2010, the VHL-AOC boat called 'De Griene Sinnefretter' debuted only in the B-category.
The plan to build a boat was already mooted last spring. It was decided then that the boat should be as sustainable as possible, says Xantho Klijnsma, who is involved as project manager and advisor. 'VHL and AOC are known for being 'green' and took up the challenge.' The body is made of fibre, cork and resin, laminated together with the fluid polymer NaBasCo using a vacuum injection technique. An environmental friendly gel coating made from resin has been sprayed on top. The planks are of light balsa wood and flax fibres. This is one of the first solar boats in the Netherlands which is completely biobased. 'With it, we have attained a milestone in the building of sustainable boats', emphasized Klijnsma. 'Something very unique is happening here.'
The four students, three of whom have moved up from vocational college education (MBO), have teamed up from the very start. In 2008, they participated in the second Frisian Solar Challenge with a catamaran, De Griene Sinnefretter. They were awarded the Fair Play Prize, because they went to help a capsized NHL boat shortly after the start of the prologue. In 2009, they became the Dutch champions in the B-category of the Dutch championships, only one hair-raising second ahead of the number two.
A lot of handwork
The students have been involved in the solar-powered boat project for more than a year. Together with design company Gaastmeer Design from the Friesian village with the same name, they developed a design which met the strict competition requirements. After ProMorfo, a sponsor from Heerenveen, had constructed the moulds, NSPS Composiet in Haarlem started work on the body. The four students themselves spent two weeks of hard work on the boat. A lot of handwork has therefore gone into it, they say. 'We cut the cork to the right size, and also did the same to the fibre cloths on the inside. The body was sandpapered and polished.'
Xantho Klijnsma reveals that sponsors are not only needed for financial reasons. 'We don't have all the expertise inhouse, because we are not pure technical experts. Companies have that technical knowhow. Our challenge is to find them and to get them involved together to come up with a good final product. By working on it ourselves as well, we can keep the costs lower.' The budget of five thousand euros (innovation fund for applied sciences universities) is not quite enough. Getting involved in the work not only reduces costs but also gives mental satisfaction. 'We really feel that this is our own boat', is how Remco Elzinga puts it.
Climate neutral beer
The students feel that they have learned a lot from the process by which things come into being. 'At first, there was nothing; then came a drawing of the design, and now, there is a boat', says Willem Bakker with a grin. Remco, the type who likes to build and use his hands, says: 'You learn to build contacts and work together with people. With this boat, we will lift sustainable sailing to a higher level', he says confidently. 'The sustainability theme will also be carried forward to the competition. Even the bottle of beer which we will drink afterwards will be green: Gulpener's Limburg Land is brewed in a climate neutral way.' Henk Hartman: 'A more sustainable boat than this doesn't exist.'
On the body of the boat, three openings are visible. In one of these, a yet to be completed captain's chair is to be fixed. The other two are inspection pits needed for placing the batteries and the motor. These will be fitted by the students themselves. It's not certain yet whether the engine will be an onboard or an outboard motor. Remco Elzinga: 'An onboard motor is located in the boat. Its advantage is less water resistance. The outboard motor hangs in the water. Its disadvantage is in having to push through more water, but then, its advantage is being cooled by water and that increases the output.'
To make the right choice, the students will contact other solar-powered boat teams, most of which are friendly. 'A very good atmosphere prevails during races and experiences are shared', they say. The deck will have five standard solar panels, which will be on loan to the participants from the organizers. How fast the 'Sinnekrêft' can travel is a matter of wait and see, because of its new design. More than ten kilometers per hour should be attainable. 'Maybe even much more', says Remco. 'Don't quote any number, because our rivals will get to know about it then. It is a competition after all, even if our main aim is to sail to the finish in a climate neutral way.'
More about the solar boat team can be found on