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Lilypad Going Circular: Navigating a New Sustainable Way to Get Out on the Water

When we started Lilypad, we collectively committed to doing it the right way. We wanted to take our combined experiences and lessons learned to build a company that was sustainable and circular at its core. The product would be sustainably designed and powered by the sun. It would be built for the circular economy and solve basic problems in boating—such as access, affordability, and pollution. Lilypad, a 100% solar powered boat, is the product of our efforts. 

Let’s explore the concept of Lilypad Solar Boats and its connection to the circular economy, shedding a little light on how this solar-powered vessel symbolizes a shift towards a more sustainable approach to water-based transportation.

Connecting Lilypad to the Circular Economy

At the core of Lilypad’s philosophy lies a commitment to the circular economy, guided by three principles: eliminate waste and pollution; recycle materials to their highest value; and regenerate nature.

It is also important to consider it as a never-ending journey; it is very challenging to make complex technical products like Lilypad totally circular. You make decisions based on multiple parameters and strive for the most sustainable outcome within a given set of parameters. In addition, as a Michigan startup company, we need to juggle the optimum with the basics of keeping the lights on … The first rule of sustainability is that you need to remain financially viable to do “good things.”

The foundational element of circularity, which isn’t discussed enough, is the business model.  Lilypad was designed for a circular business model and was based upon the existing boat rental market. Fundamentally, we said a boat should be considered a capital asset that is used repeatedly and by many different parties, e.g. renters. We are selling “time on water” as an affordable commodity rather than the private acquisition/ownership of a boat. Think more like booking an Uber than owning your own car—we call it “Boating as a Service.” 

This fundamental shift in business model accomplished several things: it allows us to expand the market for potential customer’s to almost everyone rather than a select few; creates greatly improved community access to water; and most importantly, turns each Lilypad from a one-time transaction for private ownership, to a multi-year capital asset that will generate $1.5M in lifetime rental revenue.

Another crucial aspect of our business strategy involves revenue sharing, where we equitably divide the earnings with the marina dock owner in a 50/50 arrangement. This approach transforms every dock into a potential rental site—facilitating seamless scalability for our operations. The 50/50 model necessitates collaborative efforts with marina owners and the local community to optimize market opportunities and enhance the overall customer experience. Through the revenue-sharing framework, we establish a shared set of goals and objectives among all involved parties. These foundational principles, combined with our go-to-market strategies, lay the groundwork for a circular business model encompassing Lilypad: boating as a service, time-on-water transactions, and revenue sharing.

The final part of business circularity is local sourcing. Lilypad sources most of our material and labor from local sources within Michigan. This allows us to circulate our dollars and resources within the local Michigan communities that we work and live in.

The Lilypad: A Design With Intent

Lilypad is not just an ordinary boat; it is a purpose-built design for the rental market powered purely by the sun. The Lilypad is designed to provide pollution-free and silent water-based transportation with a carefully curated selection of sustainable materials. It was designed for renters that want a social-first experience and ease of operation—think of it as a café table on water.

We also tackled challenges present in conventional boat rental management by incorporating an IoT telematics module. This enables remote monitoring of rental status and location. With this technology, Lilypad remains consistently connected, ensuring safe operations and facilitating streamlined fleet rental management. 

All of this coupled with the convenience of a nearly maintenance-free schedule allows for greatly simplified rental operations management.

Design and Technology

The first principle of circularity is to minimize waste and maximize the lifespan of products. Lilypad, with its eco-friendly design and solar-powered propulsion, aligns seamlessly with this guiding principle of the circular economy.

The sun is the source of all life on Earth and has risen daily for 4.5 billion years, and it should for another 4.5 billion years. Lilypad and its namesake rely upon solar energy—the boats are 100% solar powered. As long as the sun keeps rising, a Lilypad will never need a drop of gas or oil or need to be plugged into the grid.

Lilypad is equipped with four solar panels that provide about 25% more energy than Lilypad requires in full operating mode and the excess is diverted to the batteries—the batteries are only used for backup power in the event of dawn or dusk operation.  Solar panels are amazing power sources, as they have no moving parts and begin working with the onset of visible light and shut down at the end of the day. This is just perfect for the boat rental market, as there isn’t much demand for renting in bad weather or at night.

Our solar panels have a long lifespan. In fact, they have a 12-year product warranty and a 30-year performance warranty. All that with zero maintenance … Beautiful!

This is an exponentially less wasteful power source than a conventional boat engine. Solar panels not only greatly reduce the boat’s carbon footprint, but also showcase the potential for renewable energy sources in the transportation sector.  

Now there are some caveats to this blissful dream. Solar panels are not currently readily recyclable (although work is underway in this area) and the solar panel high value components are primarily produced offshore. However, domestically sourced solar panels will be available soon, and Lilypad will be amongst the first to participate.

Material Selection and Recycling

One of the fundamental pillars of the circular economy is the responsible selection of materials and a commitment to recycling. The Lilypad embodies this principle by incorporating recycled and recyclable materials into its construction. The use of sustainable materials not only reduces the demand for new raw materials, but also minimizes the environmental impact associated with traditional manufacturing processes.  

Moreover, when the Lilypad reaches the end of its lifecycle, its components are designed to be easily disassembled and recycled. This approach ensures that the materials used in the boat can be repurposed or returned to a manufacturing process, closing the loop on resource utilization.

Let us highlight a few areas to illustrate.

Lilypad selected aluminum as our primary hull and body structural material. Aluminum has the advantage that it has a great strength-to-weight ratio, has a very long useful life, and it is highly recycled. Our Lilypad aluminum hulls are composed of about 40% recycled aluminum and will be 100% recycled at end-of-life. We also designed Lilypad as an aluminum space frame to minimize material usage and weight. The space frame architecture allows us to minimize material while maximizing strength. It also enables easy disassembly at end of life for repurposing or recycling. Aluminum was an easy choice over typical fiberglass boat hulls which are currently non-recyclable.  

Another area of focus was energy storage. Lilypad uses 100% remanufactured LFP batteries for energy storage. LFP battery chemistry eliminates many of the safety concerns of traditional Lithium-Ion batteries as it boasts a more stable chemistry under all conditions. In addition, it eliminates the need for Cobalt which is a conflict mineral and most importantly we recover used batteries from the automotive industry. We purchase end of life automotive LFP battery cells, inspect, and repackage into new Lilypad battery packs. What is the end-of-life in one industry, is the start of a new—and can we say, more enjoyable—2nd life in a Lilypad.  

Another item worth mentioning is our decking. Lilypad utilizes Black Locust as our wood decking material. Black Locust is a legendary and historically important wood species in the USA; however, it is regarded as an invasive, nuisance species in Michigan. Black Locust has greater strength than Oak and is rot resistant and maintenance free. Perfect for marine applications, some have even said that Black Locust helped us win the war of 1812 due to its superior strength vs. English Oak. Putting historical trivia aside, we love its unstained beauty and long maintenance free life. All our decking is from Michigan-sourced urban salvage invasive Black Locust trees.

Longevity and Maintenance

As you can see, we have prioritized Lilypad’s design to emphasize longevity and low maintenance. With thoughtful design and careful selection of durable materials, we can achieve long life and low maintenance. This not only allows us to achieve objectives in circularity but also provides benefits to rental fleet operators who no longer need to worry about continuous maintenance issues. Less maintenance means lower cost, means more uptime for rental, means more renter smiles on water.

In addition, Lilypad’s modular design allows for easy upgrades and repairs. Instead of discarding the entire vessel due to technical obsolescence, specific key components can be replaced or upgraded, extending the boat’s operational life.

Sustainable Practices in Operations

Beyond its physical design, Lilypad promotes sustainability in its day-to-day operations. By relying on solar power, the boat eliminates the need for conventional fuel sources. Lilypad will operate all season long without emitting a gram of CO2, spilling a drop of gas or oil, or shredding a particle of micro plastic! The Lilypad, with its silent and emissions-free navigation, is a symbol of environmentally conscious water transportation, charting a new course for a cleaner and greener future.

The final principle of circularity is to regenerate nature. Lilypad was designed for social conversations during operation and as such we can cruise quietly without disturbing wildlife, natural settings, or the communities that we operate. Our catamaran hull design and no-wake operating speed creates very little disturbance or erosion to coastlines. Lilypads are designed to slip through waterways with very little disturbance, maximizing the enjoyment of our renters as they savor their surroundings.  

In addition, a big part of Lilypad’s mission is to increase affordable access to water. The reality is that most people never get out on the water and are unaware of its beauty, tranquility, and rewarding societal value. Naturally, this lack of awareness makes them less concerned about the protection of our vital fresh water. At our ethos, Lilypad feels that the more people get to experience and enjoy access to water, the greater they will value and prioritize its protection. This is Lilypad’s ultimate prize.

The Lilypad and Future Sustainability

By embracing the principles of the circular economy, Lilypad not only minimizes its environmental footprint, but also sets a precedent for responsible water resource management in the marine transportation industry. As technology continues to advance, the lessons learned from our ongoing operations will be incorporated into the next iteration of Lilypad. Hopefully, Lilypad can help chart a course and influence the trajectory of the maritime sector towards greater sustainability.

The journey towards a circular economy and sustainable transportation is ongoing—we are one of a thousand points of light. Hope to see you on a Lilypad soon!

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