Ocean Friends: Meet The Makers of the First Recyclable Optimist Dinghy - NL COMP
In an upcoming series we’ll be speaking with and revealing more about our friends with mutual interests. A group of great companies and people who we don’t necessarily officially have partnerships with but whom we talk with often and whom we respect and appreciate for pushing sustainability within the marine industry. Each in their own way cares about the oceans and seas as deeply as we do and are either selflessly promoting sustainability in the marine industry or providing solutions to help reduce our ocean footprints.
The issue of end of life boats and the damage they do to the marine environment, including micro plastics, is well publicised, if far from resolved. A European Union study on nautical tourism found around 80,000 boats abandoned on the continent, of which only 2,000 were disposed of in an appropriate and environmentally friendly manner.
Our first company is one helping to solve the challenge of end of life boats which are more and more becoming a huge problem in our oceans as they are abandoned. nlcomp is an innovative startup researching and developing recyclable composites for boat hulls aiming to solve the problems related to the end of life of fiberglass composites.
The company was founded in December 2019 by three friends, Fabio Bignolini, Andrea Paduano and Piernicola Paoletti. Thanks to the investment of Samer & Co. Shipping, they were able to develop the ecoracer, the first recyclable and flax fiber boat in the world.
Fast forward a few years and the team have won numerous awards for their innovations and their ecoracer won the Italian ORC Sportboat Champion 2022 Gargnano, Lake Garda on its first outing. They’ve also launched the world’s first recyclable optimist sailing dinghy - the ecoOptimist with mutual friends Clean Sailors.
The optimist dinghy being the single largest sailing class on the planet, and the single most-widely used boat, globally, the ecoOptimist is aimed at young sailors and sailing schools around the world. They’ve also been shortlisted for for the World Sailing Sustainability Awards in 2021 and for Eco-focused Yacht of the Year by International Boat Industry at the METSTRADE 2022 Boat Builder Awards.
The company is currently trying to raise €300,000 via a crowdfunding campaign with the sustainability focused crowd investing platform Ecomill to continue their growth.
We sent over a few questions to CEO Fabio Bignolini to better understand where his and the company's passion for sustainability and sailing came from and what the company is up to.
Who are you and what led you to NL Composites?
I’m Fabio, 34, from North-east Italy. I’ve been a passionate sailor and a sea lover from childhood. I have great experience in team and boat management after long years of sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2019 I decided to launch the nlcomp project with my friends Andrea Paduano and Piernicola Paoletti.
What does NL composites do?
At nlcomp we work on R&D of recyclable composites, we design and engineer recyclable boats and we also build our prototypes as ecoracer, ecoOpti and ecofoiler.
How did you get into sailing and the ocean?
I started sailing at 9 years old and never abandoned the love for wind and waves. Andrea and Piernicola all started sailing from the beginning at the same club here in Italy. We started off sailing optimists and 420 and after that we found a sailing association to keep sailing together; this year we celebrate 10 years sailing together as friends. It's really cool to be able to sail with your friends and also be very competitive: we won the European Championship title as Corinthian team in 2016 in Greece and two Italian championships in 2016 and 2020.
When did you start to care about the ocean and sustainability so much?
I think as sailors we have a natural sensibility on this topic; furthermore Andrea, our R&D Manager, had previous experience at university on a green boat project that made him even more aware of how bad traditional fiberglass composites are.
How did NL Composites come about?
I remember a call with Matteo Polli, our designer, in summer 2019 where we decided to launch a sportboat with sustainable materials! After some months of research and development with Andrea and Piernicola we were able to develop a boat that was recyclable that we were proud of.
Who else is involved in the project and what’s their roles?
We have a really amazing team: Andrea Paduano is the R&D Manager, Matteo Polli is one of the best yacht designers in the world, Samuele Nicolettis is a sail designer, Alessandro Pera and Mattia Sconocchia are the structural engineers of ecoracer, Roberto Baraccani and Alessandro Stagni are composite engineers.
What’s the ultimate goal for NL Composites?
Our goal is to change the perception of sailors and owners about new sustainable technologies and make the marine industry greener.
Where are you now?
We won the Italian Sportboat Championship this May at lake Garda with our first recyclable boat; now we are working a lot on promotion to let people know that a recyclable boat is a real solution for now, not for the future.
Where are you based and how does that affect nlcomp. Is there much support from the local community and government?
We are based in Monfalcone, Italy. It's a place with a lot of yards but in fact it's a problem because there is no support from the government and we are working to move the company where there is a different sensibility about sustainability and also more opportunities for startups.
You seem to have some amazing partnerships, what other companies have gotten involved?
We are really lucky to have the opportunity to work with amazing partners like Arkema for resin systems, Bcomp for flax fibers, NMG Europe for recyclable core, Breton for Additive Manufacturing Moulds, Onesails for 4T Forte recyclable technology, Antal for hardware, Armare for ropes and many more.
What do you hope for NL in the future?
We dream of a fleet of truly recyclable boats sailing in the Mediterranean by 2030.