In October 2012, 19 year old Aerospace Engineering student Boyan Slat created the Ocean Array Plan; a project that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic from the world’s oceans in just five years.
Despite winning the Best Technical Design award 2012 at TU Delft University in the Netherlands where Slat studied, his claim caused many skeptics to question the feasibility of such a project. Undeterred, Slat dropped out of college to bring his plans to fruition and tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The patch was discovered in the 90s. Scientists said it would take thousands of years for clean up missions to be successful - but Slat rapidly made a name for himself after presenting a TEDx talk where he claimed he could do it in less than ten - if he could get his machinery built.
In addition to crowdfunding $2.2 million for his idea, he received millions more dollars through like-minded investors and the System 001/B vessel was created.
Since Slat’s funding mission, the System 001/B vessel was launched from Vancouver in June. It is The Ocean Cleanup’s second attempt to prove its concept of collecting rubbish from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge island of rubbish, drifting halfway between California and Hawaii. Over a trillion pieces of debris have congregated there due to the nature of the tidal currents in this area, and it is now a floating mass around twice the size of Texas.
In addition to collecting obvious, visible pieces of plastic debris as well as much larger items associated with commercial fishing, System 001/B has also successfully captured microplastics as small as 1 millimetre.
“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights” said Slat.
“Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point. Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team’s commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development”
Whilst the early success of System 001/B is to be celebrated, there is still work to do. With new knowledge and experience attained from the successful deployment of System 001/B, The Ocean Cleanup is now developing it’s designs for its next ocean cleanup system, System 002; a full-scale cleanup system that unlike 001/B, is able to endure and retain the collected plastic for long periods of time.
Once fully operational, The Ocean Cleanup will return plastic to land for recycling. The timing of this depends upon further testing and design tweaking.
For now, Boyan’s courageous vision and determination is to be widely celebrated, for the results are a clear indication of the positive impact soon to be had on the Ocean Pollution clean up efforts.