Friday, March 29, 2013

Marine Litter Extraction : a teen innovator thinks he has a solution for plastic pollution in our oceans

19-year-old Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat devises plan to rid the world’s oceans of 7.25 million tons of plastic

The Ocean Cleanup Array project would then sell the retrieved particles at an estimated profit. But the plan has already draw the ire of some biologists who fear for sea life that may become entangled during the plastic recovery process.

Sometimes it takes big ideas to solve big problems.
A 19-year-old Dutch aerospace engineering student has come up with what he believes is a way to remove millions of pounds of plastic trash from the world’s oceans.
Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Array, Boyan Slat’s concept involves anchoring 24 sifters to the ocean floor and letting the sea’s own currents direct the plastic bits into miles of booms, or connected chains of timbers used to catch floating objects.
What started out as a college paper earned Slat the Best Technical Design award from Delft University of Technology.

 Problem: The plastic is not static, it moves around.
Solution: Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?
Fix the sea water processors to the sea bed, and save vast amounts of funds, manpower and emissions.

From the start, Slat said he was motivated to get to work by the very scope of the problem facing the world.
“It will be very hard to convince everyone in the world to handle their plastics responsibly, but what we humans are very good in, is inventing technical solutions to our problems,” Slat said on his website. “And that’s what we’re doing.”
Powered by the sun and ocean currents, the Ocean Cleanup Array network aims to have as little impact on sea life as possible while sifting out some 7.25 million tons of plastic over the course of just five years.
The bulk of the ray-shaped sifters and booms would be set up at the edges of the five swirling ocean gyres to trap the most plastic particles possible.

 Problem:Oceanic 'Garbage Patches' are huge, and cleaning them up would result in huge amounts of by-catches.
Furthermore there is a huge variety in debris sizes.
Solution: By using floating booms instead of nets, much larger areas will covered.
No mesh means that even the smallest particles will be diverted and extracted. No mesh - together with its low speed - will result to virtually no by-catch.
Although this hypothesis still has to be tested, even the planktonic species - due to their density being close to that of the sea water - may move under the booms along with the water flow.

Able to function in high seas and rough weather, the booms would trap floating plastic bits, then suck them into a trash sifter.
Once the plastic is retrieved, Slat envisions, it will be brought ashore and sold.
“This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic retrieved from the 5 gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute. In other words; it's profitable,” Slat’s website states.

Problems: A clean-up operation would generate significant emissions. Besides that, in high seas much plastic would escape.
Solution: The platforms will be completely self-supportive, receiving their energy from e.g. the sun, currents and waves.
And by letting the platforms' wings sway like an actual manta ray, we can ensure contacts of the inlets with the surface, even in the roughest weather.

The plan is not without its critics, however.
“Ships on fixed moorings and thousands of miles of booms (because the scale of this is also improbable) have the potential to create a lot more marine debris, and seem particularly hazardous to entanglement-prone marine life.”
Biologist Miriam Goldstein wrote on the University of Washington’s “Marine Debris Listserv
Goldstein also raised questions about whether plankton, or small and microscopic life, would be killed by the sifting process.

 Problem: Conventional clean-up ideas have never been financially realistic, let alone remediation of millions of square kilometres.
Solution: This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic retrieved from the 5 gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute. In other words; it may potentially be profitable.

For Slat, however, it’s full speed ahead.
The wunderkind founded The Ocean Cleanup Foundation earlier this year and is looking to partner with plankton biologists, engineers, and, of course, philanthropists to turn his dream into a reality.

"The last couple of days several (spontaneous) articles have been published, claiming The Ocean Cleanup Array is a 'feasible method' of extracting plastic from the gyres.
This is an incorrect statement; we are currently only at about 1/4th of completing our feasibility study. Only after finishing that study, we believe such statements should be made. Although the preliminary results look promising, and our team of about 50 engineers, modellers, external experts and students is making good progress, we had and have no intention of presenting a concept as a feasible solution while still being in investigative phase.
Please stay tuned for this study, which will be published online in several months' time.
We kindly request the press to refrain from any further publication, until all assumptions of this concept have been confirmed."

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