Innovation & Greek Waters

Genesis of the Ocean cleanup Project makes one wonder: What is it about Greek waters?

Archimedes saw water spilling out of his tub at a public bath as he dipped himself inside. King Hieron II of Syracuse had asked him to verify the purity of a stunningly beautiful gold crown without melting it – an infinitely complex task! As the water spilled out, the solution came flooding to him. The rest is history which we know as the timeless Archimedes’ Principle.

That was in Ancient Greece, more than 2,000 years ago.

Five chief Ocean Gyres
Image Credits: United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration @ https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gyre.html
Five chief Ocean Gyres
Image Credits: United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration @ https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/gyre.html

Fast forward to 2010. A 16 year old Dutch student named Boyan Slat was diving in the waters around Lesbos, a Greek island. But there was more plastic than fish! Disgusted, he began hunting for solutions and there emerged the Ocean Cleanup Project, an eco-friendly, ocean cleaning method.  

After years of trial and error, the project captured plastic of all sizes – from 1mm microplastics to colossal, abandoned fishing nets – in October 2019. A prototype of System 001/B achieved this feat at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of over 600,000 square miles where a large part of the world’s plastic trash floats.

An “Ocean” of Plastic Menace

Let’s say, you dispose a plastic bottle. Chances are, it will end up in one of the five gyres in the world’s oceans. A gyre is a gigantic mechanism of circulating ocean currents. Ocean currents transport plastic trash from coastlines to the center of the grye, which is stable and calm. Precisely why the trash gets trapped here.

Till date, we have already burdened oceans with an estimated 150 million tons of plastic. That’s not all though, for we continue to pile on 8 million tons per year. The five gyres / zones are:

  • Great Pacific Gyre: in the north Pacific gyre
  • South Pacific Gyre
  • North Atlantic Gyre
  • South Atlantic Gyre
  • Indian Ocean Gyre

Micoplastics are less than 5mm long and are particularly lethal. Marine creatures gobble them up with their food. This is where they enter the food chain. Cadmium, lead, and mercury are the source of direct toxins in plastic and can cause serious disorders viz.:

  • Deficient immunity
  • Cancer
  • Childhood development problems
  • Birth defects

How it Works

You might wonder why authorities aren’t using regular ocean cleaning techniques to clean these patches. For one, these zones keep shifting with ocean currents. Traditional ship-and-net methods would burn billions in cash and millions of tons of fossil fuel while taking decades for clean up, doing more harm to the environment than good.

Ocean Cleanup Project employs innovative green technologies and promises to dredge up half the Pacific Plastic in five years from full deployment, completing the cleansing by 2040.

So how does it work?

Forces acting on the Boom and Mobile Parachute Anchor
Image Credits: The Ocean Cleanup @ https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/

Forces acting on the Boom and Mobile Parachute Anchor
Image Credits: The Ocean Cleanup @ https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/

It includes a 600m long boom or floater with a 3m deep skirt attached. Both ends of the boom converge at a mobile parachute anchor. The skirt is deeper in the middle of the boom than at its ends. The entire mechanism floats freely and the boom adopts a U shape.


Boom / Floater (round) prevents large plastic pieces from flowing over it; Skirt (attached below the floater) stops tiny plastic trash flowing underneath; Marine organisms can swim from below the Skirt

First, the boom helps the system float and prevents larger plastic trash from flowing over it. Next, the skirt holds back smaller plastic pieces which may look to escape from below while allowing fishes and marine creatures to swim from underneath – no collateral damage here.

Cork line added for better buoyancy and trash collection
Image Credits: The Ocean cleanup @ https://theoceancleanup.com/media-gallery/

Winds, waves, currents, and the mobile parachute anchor exert forces, making the boom move slower than plastic trash. The speed difference means plastic gathers in the loop of the boom. A cork line added to the earlier design improved buoyancy and prevented plastic from escaping from above the boom.

Collected plastic trash
Image Credits: The Ocean cleanup @ https://theoceancleanup.com/media-gallery/

With solar lights, sensors, anti-collision mechanisms, cameras, and satellite communication system, it signals its position continuously in real time. When full, a support vessel gathers the collected plastic. Thereafter, the plastic is recycled into useful products.

Support vessel carries away the collected plastic garbage
Image Credits: The Ocean Cleanup @ https://theoceancleanup.com/media-gallery/#&gid=9&pid=5

Finally

Successfully harvesting plastic trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in October 2019, the project has opened up a fresh chapter. Being passive, it uses virtually zero energy for operation while capturing large and small pieces of plastic – as holistic as it gets.

Indrajeetsinh Yadav has compiled this article from various sources. For more such innovative content on engineering or technical topics, call us at +91-9822052945 or write to us at info@falconwords.comFalcon Words offers exemplary, customized content on 10+ areas.   

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