World issues with plastics in oceans
TRILLION PIECES OF PLASTIC CURRENTLY LITTER THE OCEANS and we are continuing to funnel millions of stuff in the oceans every year. Plastic debris are accumulated in different oceans, like the largest one in the Great Pacific. There are five major Oceans - Indian, the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Atlantic and the South Pacific. Ocean garbage patches are vast and dispersed. Those areas are called subtropical gyres. Because of those gyres, the plastic pollution travels in all direction being spread across millions of square kilometers. The plastic is trapped in Arctic ice and poisoning animals like turtles, fishes, birds and so on.
Plastic is meant to be cheap and versatile material, but it’s actually endangering our health, ecosystems and economies. Thus, we can call plastic a natural disaster from now on. We, the human specie, are producing millions of tons of plastic per year. Over the past 70 years, we have produced billions of metric tons of this petroleum-based material. Plastic debris will become more and more hazardous in years to come because they will break down into smaller pieces before ending up in our own natural food supplies and by the same, in our bodies.
Everything started in the summer of 2011 when a young boy was in Greece. This boy realized that in the water he came across more plastic bags than fish!
This problem struck him so bad that when he came back home, he decided to write a high school science paper on the plastic pollution problem. During his investigation, he realized something, that people claimed it was nearly impossible to rid our oceans of plastic and of the severity of the problem. This young scuba diver in Greece was Boyan Slat. A 16 years old Dutch engineering student.
In 2012, he showed to the world, being watched several million of times, his first clean up array concept using a TEDx Talk. He showed his idea of using natural ocean currents to let the oceans clean themselves. He also thought about reselling the collected plastic, making the enterprise sustainable. Before Slat went viral on the internet with his TEDx Talk, it was difficult to access funding because of his young age and the boldness of his social project. But, he never gave up on his dream of becoming the business which would do the largest environmental cleanup in our history!
Ocean Cleanup Concept
“A cleanup of our oceans has always been deemed impossible, costing billions of dollars and thousands of years” - Boyan Slat
The Ocean Cleanup solution is about extracting and preventing plastic pollution from the Great Pacific Patch in just several years' time. The method is to exploit ocean currents and winds which passively catch and concentrate garbage towards a collection platform. In other words, they are building a solution which would let plastic come to them. Long floating rubber barriers with screens below the surface are used to catch and concentrate the trash from the ocean, negating the risk of wildlife entanglement and vertebrate bycatch. Once corralled into one location, boats can then transport the plastic from the ocean and it can eventually be sold as recycled materials. This is how they will make the business sustainable.
With more than 60 employees, millions of dollars in donations and funding, and awards all around the world, The Ocean Cleanup is aiming to begin a global, scaled-up cleanup in 2020.
Ocean Cleanup Technologies
The system’s floater will be a continuous 1 to 2 km in length hard-walled pipe. It will be constituted from an extremely durable and recyclable material. The purpose is to catch and concentrate plastic. Everything is engineered to follow the waves and maintain its open u-shape.
To have a positive impact on the sea life while having the most effective way of catching debris, the cleanup systems will use a solid screen. The screen will catch the subsurface debris from different sizes and shapes. The material of this screen will be sufficiently durable to last for decades in the ocean.
The third component of the cleanup system is the anchor. That part will help slow down the system to move at a slower pace than the plastic debris, thus allowing a better chance of capturing them.
The last part of this system will help to concentrate, recycle and sale the plastic debris. Once a buffer of a cleanup system is full, a support vessel will empty the system. The platform will have a 10,000-metre-cubed capacity and will be emptied every one and a half months. Its processing capabilities will be powered by energy collected using a rig of 162 solar panels. All those plastic debris can be turned into high-quality products we all can use in our lives. With the selling of those branded materials, the Ocean Cleanup system will be self-sustainable.
Furthermore, the systems will be autonomous. Technology will specify the optimal deployment locations, as well as allowing a real-time monitoring condition, performance and trajectory.
Energy neutral because the systems will fully rely on the natural ocean currents and will not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All the electronics will be powered by solar energy.
By gradually adding systems, they mitigate the need for full financing upfront. This gradual scale-up also allows them to learn from the field and continuously improve the technology along the way.
The Ocean Cleanup group is working on different expeditions to prove the feasibility of their concept. The first one is the Mega Expedition. It’s a series of oceanic expeditions researching for plastic debris in the gyre, as well as technical and economic feasible recycling methods. They launched a fleet of approximately 30 vessels in the Pacific garbage patch and measured the concentration, spatial and size distribution of plastics. The expedition helped them in the preparation of a large-scale cleanup starting in 2020.
The other expedition was an Aerial one to survey and map the Ocean Garbage Patch. It helped them quantify the ocean’s debris, and they sadly saw a lot more debris than expected. With a flight crew of 10 researchers, 3 sensor technicians and 7 navigation personnel, The Ocean Cleanup Aerial Expedition used a combination of experienced human observers and advanced sensors to count the debris. Advanced sensors helped convert the count from the visual survey to a weight estimate by registering the size of the objects detected.
The Ocean Cleanup team executed a series of scale model tests to determine the loads, dynamics and cleanup efficiency of the floating barrier system. Results help to further improve the design, ensuring it will survive and be operable in storm conditions.
The North Sea Prototype
The Ocean Cleanup deployed a 100 meter-long barrier segment in the North Sea, 23 km off the coast of The Netherlands on June 22nd of 2016. It was the first time their design was put to the test in open waters, and the tests conducted gave valuable insights to their engineering team.
The Ocean Cleanup project is aiming for a home run to help solve the ocean pollution problem. Their concept and technology, deployed at full-scale, could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years for less than $320 million. In 2016, they thought they would be able to clean 42% in a 10-year span, but now they have proved their concept and gained the confidence to establish a new projection. It is because the systems will automatically drift to where the plastic is that they are confident of this new estimate.
After reading this article, maybe you are asking yourself if The Ocean Cleanup group has the ambition of cleaning up all the oceans from plastic debris? Sure, yes they have that objective, and it is the first path towards plastic free oceans by 2050.
Big problems require big solutions.
So why not use the power of technology to take on these big challenges and restore the natural balance of our world?
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How to follow The Ocean Cleanup:
The Ocean Cleanup: https://www.theoceancleanup.com/
Boyan Slat (Founder): http://boyanslat.com/
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