Environment

Ocean Cleanup attaches parachutes to trash-collecting barriers to maintain steady speeds

Ocean Cleanup attaches parachu...
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
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The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
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The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
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The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
3/13
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
The Ocean Cleanup will expand the size of its cork lines to better contain plastic waste
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The Ocean Cleanup will expand the size of its cork lines to better contain plastic waste
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
5/13
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
6/13
The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
7/13
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
8/13
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
9/13
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
10/13
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
11/13
The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
12/13
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man
13/13
The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man

It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup's U-shaped barriers, which it hopes will sweep through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch collecting plastic waste that can be hauled back to shore and recycled. The team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block, using a novel parachute-anchor mechanism to correct speed-related troubles plaguing its earlier approach to ocean-going garbage collection.

The Great Ocean Cleanup team envisions fleets of its U-shaped barrier drifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch eating up plastic waste like a giant Pac-Man. The basic premise is that the plastic on the surface of the ocean is propelled by the current and will travel at a different speed to the system which is powered by the combination of currents, surface waves and wind.

And this speed differential is key, because the challenge isn't just to gather plastic waste within the giant barrier, but hold it there for long periods without human intervention. That's because the garbage patch is located great distances from shore, around five times as far as the International Space Station is from land.

The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing
The Ocean Cleanup team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing

The first system the team deployed endured some fractures after some time in the ocean, owing to the rough conditions of the open sea. But more concerning for the team was the inability to maintain a regular speed. For the trash to gather within the barrier and stay there, consistency across the water is key.

So the team hauled it in and made some modifications, taking a modular approach to the redesign that would enable them to test out a number of solutions without hauling it back to shore each time. Among these alterations was the attachment of a huge parachute, designed to act as an anchor and slow down the barrier so the faster-moving plastic can then drift into its opening.

The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block
The Ocean Cleanup team is now reporting to have overcome a significant stumbling block

After testing out a number of options, the team has declared the parachute system the winner and will be moving forward with the design. It says this approach produced no negative speed differential at all, and that the plastic successfully drifted into the barrier and remained there.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows, at least not yet. Following this redesign, the team has encountered another problem, albeit one it says will be easier to solve. Some of the gathered plastic has a tendency to spill over the cork line used at the surface to hold the screen in place. It will now test out a modified system that expands the diameter of these cork lines from 15 cm (0.5 ft) to around half a meter (1.6 ft), in order to better contain the mess.

It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers
It has been a rocky start to life for The Ocean Cleanup’s U-shaped barriers

The team is now in the process of deploying the updated design for real-world testing.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

1 comment
Dan Lewis
I think it's time to think more radically about this. Instead of dragging stuff around, let's dump large amounts of crushed dry ice and freeze sections of water with plastic in it and haul those pieces away for separation/cleaning. YES, I recognize that the trash areas are not solid trash, that some of these places can't even be detected by sight. We'd use infra-red, ultra violet, etc, etc to get the job done. Maybe some kind of ship that weaves netting on board from plastic already harvested. That netting would be used to net more plastic. The process would put air pockets in some part of the new netting so that the net would float; other parts would not have the air bubbles and so would go further down into the water.