Cleantech Rising Newsletter January 5th, 2017
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Eliminating Plastic from the Ocean Isn't Just Possible, It's Happening
The word ambition just doesn’t quite cut it. It was 2012 when Boyan Slat gave a Ted Talk about a theory he had for removing plastic from our oceans, a feat thought to be impossible at the time. When the talk went viral, scientists and engineers came out of the woodwork to offer support.

The Ocean Cleanup was founded in 2013 with a goal of deploying a system in 2020 capable of cleaning up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years. After proving the idea feasible and crowd funding $2.2 million (by 38,000 people from 160 countries), extensive research and an iterative design process has ensued. 

Today’s post is about what they’ve been up to, what lies ahead, and how we can support The Ocean Cleanup.

The Basic Design

Image: Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup

"Why move through the ocean, when the ocean can move through you?"

Instead of using a fleet of ships with nets (incredibly inefficient), why not place a v-shaped wall in the middle of the ocean to accumulate floating plastic and let the natural flow of ocean currents direct it to a central collection point? 

It seems obvious now, but until Slat brought this idea up on the world stage no one had thought to pursue it before. Research and data collection on ocean plastic had been sparse, so The Ocean Cleanup needed to collect significantly more data to develop a system that works.

The Mega Expedition

Image: The Ocean Cleanup

Thirty ships went in parallel from Hawaii to California to conduct the largest expedition of its kind. They found that the majority of ocean plastic is found in larger pieces than was previously thought (decimeter-meter range rather than the millimeter-centimeter range). 

Images: The Ocean Cleanup

They also found that the majority of ocean plastic floats within the top 3 meters of the surface. This insight was vital for the design process that has been ongoing in the Netherlands.

The Mega Expedition allowed The Ocean Cleanup to create the first high-res map of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and acquired more data than the last 40 years combined, but they weren't done yet. Enter Ocean Force One.
The Aerial Expedition

Image: The Ocean Cleanup

The trawls from the Mega Expedition were only able to capture debris up to ~1m in size, leaving out a ton of large objects and clusters of objects tangled in nets. In order to get a better idea of how many of these are out there, a team of scientists took a plane ride above the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They counted over one thousand objects in just two and a half hours.

All of this research is allowing The Ocean Cleanup to design and test the best possible system... which brings us to the prototype that launched in late June 2016. 


The North Sea Prototype

Image: The Ocean Cleanup

“We will continue to go through these iteration cycles until we are confident the barrier design is capable of lasting in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for years.”

The harsh conditions of the North Sea are regularly comparable to those of a once-every-hundred-years storm in the Pacific, making it an ideal location for testing. Doing repairs on a system a couple miles out at sea is one thing. Doing repairs on a system that is one thousand miles out at sea is entirely another. Hence, these iterations. 

After two months, the prototype was pulled out to make some repairs and design adjustments. Cameras and sensors allowed them to identify exactly what went wrong and the system was redeployed for more testing, all leading up to the ultimate test coming up in the second half of this year. 

2017 Pilot System

Image: Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup plans to launch the first functional pilot system in the Pacific towards the end of 2017. It will be several kilometers in length and will help them gain the final insights needed to launch their full-scale system in 2020. 

In closing, it's worth mentioning how The Ocean Cleanup systems will become financially sustainable. Plastic recovered will be transported, recycled and sold to B2C businesses for reuse. 
Act on Climate
Sticking with the theme of voting with our dollars, click here to support The Ocean Cleanup. Follow them on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter. Use the icons below to forward this email to a friend or share it on social media. As always, they don't click themselves...
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