Environmental activism is an easy buzzword, but there are few true movers and shakers who are doing something in the realm of pollution reduction. Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineering student at the Delft University of Technology, is working to combine environmentalism, technology, and his creative outlook to rid our oceans of plastic debris. His Ocean Cleanup Project aims to utilize the oceans’ natural gyres (five circular currents in the oceans around the world – two in the Atlantic, two in the Pacific, and one in the Indian) to collect plastic waste.

Plastic pollution in our oceans weighs in at millions of tons, costs millions of dollars annually, kills hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals, may aid the spread of algae and other invasive species, and acts as transportation for other pollutants such as PCB and DDT. Slat’s Ocean Cleanup concept would use sea water processing stations, fixed to the seabed, to collect plastic waste as the ocean moved around it, due to the gyres.

The stations would have large booms, rather than nets, that would be designed to allow sealife and other items with the proper densities to pass under, while the plastics would be captured. This concept has yet to reach proof-of-concept, but in theory the developers say the process works.

Because the platforms would be stationary, utilizing the currents for capturing waste, they could be highly energy efficient, and ideally, self-supporting through harnessing solar energy or currents. This efficiency combined with the practice of selling the collected plastic could allow this concept to be not just economically neutral, but maybe even profitable. “According to current estimations – due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency – recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project,” Slat’s site explains.

Slat and his team are still conducting a feasibility study, but if shown to be scientifically possible, the concept has the potential to rid the world’s oceans of 7,250,000,000 kg of plastic in just five years. This prediction is based on Ocean Surface CURrent Simulator (OSCURS) data. According to the project curators, “OSCURS drifter tracking models show the natural rotational period of the gyres' currents is approximately five years. However, since surface currents are largely driven by wind, there is a degree of variability.”

Slat’s concept still has a long way to go until it can be utilized as a real means to cleaning up the ocean, but it's an idea we would love to see come to fruition. The team expects to have the feasibility study published online by the end of the year.

Source: Boyan Slat

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