Ocean Cleanup system launched from San Francisco

Monday, 22 October, 2018

Ocean Cleanup system launched from San Francisco

The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch non-profit organisation developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic, recently launched what is claimed to be the world’s first ocean cleanup system.

Hundreds of scale-model tests, a series of prototypes, research expeditions and multiple iterations have led to The Ocean Cleanup having sufficient confidence in its technology to launch its first full-scale cleanup system. Known as System 001, the cleanup system consists of a 600 m-long U-shaped floating barrier with a 3 m skirt attached below.

The system is designed to be propelled by wind and waves, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it. Due to its shape, the debris will be funnelled to the centre of the system. Moving slightly faster than the plastic, the system will act like a giant Pac-Man, skimming the surface of the ocean.

Following a two-week trial, System 001 began its journey towards the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — the world’s largest accumulation zone of ocean plastics. Situated halfway between Hawaii and California, and 1200 nautical miles offshore from San Francisco Bay, the patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and covers an area twice the size of Texas.

The system is being towed from the San Francisco Bay by the vessel Maersk Launcher, which has been made available to the project by A.P. Moller–Maersk and DeepGreen, its current charter holder. After delivery of the system to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Maersk Launcher will remain active as an observation platform for several weeks.

“Maersk contributes to the protection of the ocean environment through our sustainable activities in both ocean- and land-based activities,” said Claus V Hemmingsen, Vice CEO of A.P. Moller–Maersk and CEO of the Energy division. “As a responsible maritime operator, we are committed to ensuring that the oceans remain a healthy environment for generations to come. We are therefore very pleased to contribute with services and equipment to The Ocean Cleanup.”

The Ocean Cleanup anticipates that the first plastic will be collected and returned to land within six months after deployment, marking the first time that free-floating plastic will have been successfully collected at sea. After returning the plastic to land, The Ocean Cleanup plans to recycle the material into products and use the proceeds to help fund the cleanup operations.

While the main objective of System 001 is to prove the technology and start the cleanup, a secondary goal is to collect performance data to improve the design for future deployments. Hence, the system is equipped with two broadband terminals from Iridium Communications, which will be relaying critical systems data including compartment flood detection, position and location information, pictures, 360° video and system performance information.

The broadband terminals will receive data from a complex combination of sensors and data-gathering equipment hosted by each system, which will then be relayed to The Ocean Cleanup’s headquarters in Rotterdam in real time. Iridium’s constellation of 66 interconnected low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites requires no local ground infrastructure and provides the robustness, reliability and redundancy needed to ensure this critical data is delivered as expected.

“I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous amount of support we have received over the past few years from people around the world that has allowed us to develop, test and launch a system with the potential to begin to mitigate this ecological disaster,” said Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. “This makes me confident that, if we manage to make the technology work, the cleanup will happen.

“The real celebration will come once the first plastic returns to shore. For 60 years, mankind has been putting plastic into the oceans; from that day onwards, we’re taking it back out again.”

Once successful, and if the funding is available, The Ocean Cleanup aims to scale up to a fleet of approximately 60 systems focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next two years. The organisation projects that the full fleet can remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years’ time. This is in line with The Ocean Cleanup’s ultimate goal: reducing the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans by at least 90% by 2040.

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