Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineering student at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, began searching two years ago for a way to remove plastic marine litter from the world’s oceans. He was 17 then and now he has a potential solution called the Ocean Cleanup Array.
The platforms that collect and hold the surface plastic are anchored to the ocean floor.
The Array would consist of 24 floating platforms anchored to the ocean floor around the periphery of the five ocean gyres that contain most of the surface plastic debris. Taking advantage of the natural movement of the gyres, long booms attached to the platforms would serve as large funnels to direct the plastic debris into the platform, which then would filter the plastic, separating the water and marine life.
The plastic would be held in a collection bin until at some point it would be taken to land where it could be sold for recycling. Though it’s unlikely the system could remove all the plastic pieces, Slat and the system’s designers think it can remove a major portion of the estimated 7.25 billion kg (15.98 billion lb) of surface material.
Long booms let ocean currents funnel surface plastics into the manta-shaped platform.
If it works it will take considerable time. Tracking studies have found that the rotational cycle of the gyres is about five years, and that is variable because it’s driven by the ocean winds. A major point in Slat’s thinking is, why try a solution involving some device or ship moving across the ocean when letting the oceans move the plastics to the stationary collectors could save money, labor, and emissions.
Slat says the manta-shaped platforms will be self-supporting, drawing energy from sources such as the sun, currents, and waves. He also says that selling the recovered plastic for recycling would make more money than the cost of the entire operation — it could be profitable.
Slat’s website says that, currently, the project is urgently seeking hydrodynamic/fluid dynamics modelers, process engineers, maritime structure engineers, experienced users of MATLAB, the fourth generation programming language, and plankton biologists. And as you would expect, the project is searching for funding of its further development.
Boyan Slat, 19, of Delft, The Netherlands
Slat recently has added a statement to his website after seeing several articles stating the Ocean Cleanup Array is a feasible method of collecting plastics from the five ocean gyres. That, he says, is incorrect.
Even though preliminary results look promising, Slat says the 50-person team is only about a quarter of
the way toward completing its feasibility study. However, it is making good progress and he advises us to stay tuned, as the results of the study will be published online in “several months time.” Born in 1994, this talented young man may not yet be 20 when the study results are posted — not that it matters.