Surf's Up for Clean Technology
Unless your skin is about a foot thick, swimming and surfing in the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time requires a wetsuit to stay warm and comfortable. That comfort, however, comes at a price as the vast majority of wetsuits are made from petroleum-based neoprene. The material is durable and does the job, but its manufacture is a carbon-intensive and toxic process. Now Patagonia is aggressively promoting its plant-based wetsuit technology with the goal to have it become a game-changer in the surf industry.
The quest for more sustainable materials within its wetsuit product line started almost 10 years ago. In 2005 Patagonia decided to make a move into the wetsuit business, and after researching the process by which neoprene is made, rolled out a line of wetsuits made from feedstock based on limestone. That was a step in the right direction, since the world's quarries are not going to be depleted from making wetsuits for surfer dudes. But the company understood that environmentally, limestone was only a more responsible step up from petroleum.
To that end, Patagonia introduced a plant-based wetsuit in late 2012. Working with the biomaterials manufacturer Yulex, Patagonia designed wetsuits made for the most part from guayule, a shrub that grows in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. According to Yulex, guayale's advantages are that it requires little water to grow, needs no pesticides, and the process churning the plant into resin is far cleaner than producing neoprene sourced from petroleum. For now, these wetsuits are 60 percent guayale-based, though both companies say a 100 percent plant-based product is both companies' ultimate goal.
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Surfer image via Shutterstock.