A Dutch foundation developing technology to remove waste plastics from the world’s oceans has launched a working North Sea prototype.
The organisation said that the prototype is the first ocean cleanup system ever tested at sea.
Two of The Ocean Cleanup’s main partners, the Dutch government, and dredging and marine contractor Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., were represented at the unveiling.
The prototype has been installed in the North Sea, 23 km (12 NM) off the Dutch coast, where it will remain for one year. The objective is to test how The Ocean Cleanup’s floating barrier fares in extreme weather at sea – the kind of conditions the system will eventually face when deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The 100m long barrier segment deployed in the North Sea will help validate the survivability of the system.
The developer said that sensors track every motion of the prototype and the loads it is subjected to. It is hoped that the data gathered will enable engineers to develop a system fully resistant to severe conditions during the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
At the North Sea test site, conditions during a minor storm are said to be more severe than those in exceptionally heavy storms (occurring once every 100 years) in the Pacific Ocean.
The Ocean Cleanup’s cleaning technology makes use of long floating barriers which act as an artificial coastline, passively catching and concentrating ocean debris.
The system is powered by the ocean’s natural currents. Testing the barriers is important because of their crucial role in the cleanup concept. Although some plastic waste may be caught during the North Sea prototype test, collecting plastic is not its objective.
Boyan Slat, CEO and founder of The Ocean Cleanup, said “A successful outcome of this test should put us on track to deploy the first operational pilot system in late 2017.”
He also said that a successful test does not necessarily mean the prototype will survive: “I estimate there is a 30% chance the system will break, but either way it will be a good test.”
Dutch Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma said: “The Ocean Cleanup is an inspiring example of how we can tackle the growing problem of ocean pollution. I hope that with the help of the Dutch government, Boyan’s prototype will turn out to be the successful solution for cleaning up the mid-ocean gyres.”
“This is crucial to prevent permanent damage to the environment and marine life, due to the degradation and fragmentation of plastic waste materials,” continued to the minister.
Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis added: “Now that everything is ready, we are looking forward to the really exciting next step, with the transportation and installation of the barrier. I wish Boyan and his team success with their journey towards a plastics-free ocean.”
A video of the Slat’s presentation can be viewed below.
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