The Ocean Cleanup’s latest prototype, System 001/B, is successfully capturing and collecting plastic debris. The system manages to collect plastics in all size classes, from microplastics to ghost nets.
The Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch non-profit organisation that developes technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. After one year of testing, the organisation’s engineers have succeeded in developing a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic. The concept was first presented by founder and CEO, Boyan Slat, at a TEDx conference in October 2012.
Launched from Vancouver in June, System 001/B is The Ocean Cleanup’s second attempt to prove its concept of collecting garbage from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation zone of plastic in the world’s oceans. In addition to collecting plainly visible pieces of plastic debris, as well as much larger ghost nets associated with commercial fishing, the latest system has also successfully captured microplastics as small as one millimetre.
The aim of System 001/B was to trial modifications, which addressed known complications, primarily aimed at correcting the inconsistent speed difference between the system and the plastic. Consistency was achieved by slowing down the system with a parachute sea anchor, allowing for faster-moving plastic debris to float into the system.
Once this main challenge was resolved, prominent plastic overtopping was observed – becoming the next technical challenge to solve. Due to the modularity of System 001/B, a modification to increase the size of the cork line was designed and implemented while the system was offshore. With the new cork line, minimal overtopping is now being observed, thus allowing the system to capture and concentrate plastic.
Despite the early success of System 001/B, there is still much work to do. With new learnings and experience derived from the successful deployment of System 001/B, The Ocean Cleanup will now begin to design its next ocean cleanup system, System 002; a full-scale cleanup system that is able to both endure and retain the collected plastic for long periods of time.
Once fully operational, The Ocean Cleanup will return plastic to land for recycling. Timing of that phase of the mission is contingent upon further testing and design iteration.
Picture: Plastic retention in front of the extended cork line, from System 001/B (by The Ocean Cleanup).