In the Interest of Plastic-Free, Healthy Oceans

^ SeaVax: Proof of Concept Model Without Turbines – Image Courtesy of Bluebird Marine Systems at http://www.bluebird-electric.net/oceanography/Ocean_Plastic_International_Rescue/SeaVax_Ocean_Clean_Up_Robot_Drone_Ship_Sea_Vacuum.htm

Innovation Unlimited

At Innovate U.K., a government sponsored show held in November 2015 in London, Bluebird Marine Systems showcased a 1:20 prototype as a proof of concept of the SeaVax, a solar and wind powered vessel that can suck plastic waste from oceans.

Now, the team from Sussex, England is eyeing to raise $0.9 billion via crowdfunding to build 300 full scale SeaVax boats. The team believes it will need 300 such boats to clean our oceans. And, they will need $0.9 billion when operating on a not-for-profit basis.

Innovation is and will remain the mainstay of fighting the stiff challenge of environmental pollution for conventional methods won’t take us very far. Evolution scientists say, life began in the oceans. It should not end there. If we destroy oceans, what then will remain of us?

The Menace of Marine Pollution

2 - Garbage Patches in Oceans

Garbage Patches in Oceans (Image Courtesy of Bluebird Marine Systems)

Oceans are the most diverse and abundant ecosystem on earth. Sea plants provide 70% of earth’s oxygen and 97% of the world’s water while absorbing 30% of the carbon dioxide that we produce.

We however seem to be treating them like giant garbage bins. Why else would there be millions of tons of garbage in our oceans? If the enormity of these garbage patches were not enough, there is another issue – these patches keep shifting.

Garbage has accumulated in the following areas of the world’s oceans:

  • East and West Pacific Gyres that collectively form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • South Pacific Gyre
  • North and South Pacific Gyres
  • Indian Ocean Gyre

Of course, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest. If we employ traditional logic, it will take 44.8 years to clean this patch by employing 50 zero emission ships equipped with 20 meter wide mobile collector booms.

And we have not even included the time needed to clean the garbage which we will create in the meantime! What if we do? For, we dump into the oceans about 8 million tons of plastic every year.

Satellite Image of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Image Courtesy of NASA at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill_-_May_24,_2010_-_with_locator.jpg

Satellite Image of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
(Image Courtesy of NASA)

A 2014 UN estimate confirms of there being 270,000 tons of plastic trash in our oceans. The statistic will shoot through the roof if we include all types of trash.

What makes plastics especially dangerous is that they do not break down for an average of 400 years. And, they splinter easily – most plastics in oceans are under 10 mm in size.

Small plastic particles then accumulate on plankton that serves as food for marine animals. This is where they enter the food chain and find their way into our diets and organ systems.

What can follow are heart disorders, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, kidney damage, nervous system impairment, hormonal issues, problems with the reproductive system and what not.

Sewage, garbage, chemical pollutants, and oil also pollute ocean waters. A report by the State of the Ocean estimates that developing regions such as Africa and Indo-Pacific release about 80-90% of their untreated sewage in rivers and oceans. This invites cholera epidemics.

Chemical pollutants enter the food chain and travel their way into our bodies through fish and other seafood. Their concentration may rise in the tissues of creatures higher up in the food chain, a process called bio-magnification.

Marine Debris washed up on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Image Courtesy of Algalita.org at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kamilo_Beach2_Courtesy_Algalita_dot_org.jpg

Marine Debris washed up on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
(Image Courtesy of Algalita.org)

While some chemicals such as cyanide break down easily, others such as organo-chlorine compounds, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls do not. The latter are more responsible for bio-magnification.

Oil leaks to the oceans through natural seepage, shipping, land-based operations, spills, and extraction processes. Conservative estimates place the oil released annually into oceans at 1.3 million tons while stronger evaluations place this at 8.3 million tons.

SeaVax: Construction & Operation

Two wind turbines and solar panels will power the pumps and filters aboard the SeaVax whose full scale model will measure 44 meters in length. Equipped with a 13.5 meters wide suction head, the SeaVax will be the world’s largest vacuum cleaner!

Largest because SeaVax’s suction head is wider than that of the Queen of the Netherlands, the largest and the most powerful dredger vessel in the world. Her suction head is only 6 meters wide.

Pumps will funnel in plastics and micro plastics as the SeaVax surges ahead. The onboard shredder will cut them to size. A cargo hold of 150 ton capacity will store the shredded plastics. Onshore plants will handle the recycling and disposal of accumulated plastics.

What is more, designers will also install an oil spill cleaning module on the SeaVax. This component can either play a supplementary role or even the primary role.

With this added contraption, the SeaVax may well prove itself to be a versatile instrument for cleaning up the oceans of multiple wastes – something that many regard impossible at the present.

Effect of Eutrophication on Marine Life - Image Courtesy of Hans Hillewaert at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Scheme_eutrophication-en.svg

Effect of Eutrophication on Marine Life
(Image Courtesy of Hans Hillewaert)

Combined with SeaNet, the fleet control software, SeaVax promises to be an economically feasible and environment friendly solution to cleaning the garbage patches that dot our life-giving ocean ecosystems.

Accumulating plastic garbage is one thing. Transporting it in bulk quantities to onshore facilities for further processing is another. Such transport has to be eco-friendly or the ships will end up doing more harm to the environment than good.

Controlled remotely from land via SeaNet, the team of innovators believes that a fleet of full scale SeaVax vessels can operate near-continuously collecting plastic and other garbage while a fleet of solar-powered barges collects garbage from them and delivers it on land.

Plastic-infested seawater will enter the depth-adjustable mouth of SeaVax. A slow-speed, high-torque shredder will then cut the plastic to size through combined breaking, ripping, and shredding. The mouth and shredder can handle carpets, tree barks, tires, and concrete debris.

Hydrocyclonic battery-powered pumps will then carry the graded waste to the filtration apparatus and thence to a holding area near the rear end of the vessel. The holding bay will extract plastic particles of diverse sizes as almost-totally-pure seawater exits from the rear aperture.

SeaVax on Display Image Courtesy of Bluebird Marine Systems at http://www.bluebird-electric.net/oceanography/Ocean_Plastic_International_Rescue/SeaVax_Ocean_Clean_Up_Robot_Drone_Ship_Sea_Vacuum.htm

SeaVax on Display (Image Courtesy of Bluebird Marine Systems)

 

According to the company’s website, SeaVax will collect about 22,400 tons of plastic in a year if the pumps operate at 75% efficiency and motors at 90%.

Now, the current market rates for scrap plastic can be anywhere between £0.3/kg and £0.7/kg. This transforms into between £6.72 million and £15.68 million of revenues that will bring down the payback time for each SeaVax vessel to 1 year.

Please note, this is a highly optimistic assumption and the payback time may well extend to 5 years as the company has so prudently suggested. And we have not even considered the research cost for fine tuning the SeaVax.

Small sized plastic particles concentrate near the surface of oceans. Their concentration declines as we move deeper into the sea. This is a welcome phenomenon for it makes the task of SeaVaz that much simpler.

Filters prevent plastics from entering the pumps and disturbing their smooth operations. Pumps shut down automatically in case the sensor detects marine organisms in filters – another evidence of the team’s commitment to environmental welfare.

The Ocean Cleanup Apparatus Image Courtesy of the Ocean Cleanup Project at http://www.theoceancleanup.com/

The Ocean Cleanup Apparatus (Image Courtesy of the Ocean Cleanup Project)

In order to minimize the cost of development and production, the team will try and use as much off-the-shelf technology as possible while also roping in competent sub-contractors.

The team is also looking to hike SeaVax’s processing speed to 10 tons per nautical mile in the worst polluted ocean regions. This is a steep challenge that will demand a near-seamless transfer system of barges that operates at clockwork precision.

Other challenges include the weather and the necessity to make SeaVax totally automated. For, there will be no operators to clean a blocked SeaVax in the middle of watery wilderness.

Storms are a regular event at high seas and an inevitable part of a seaman’s life. Armed with weather sensing equipment, the SeaVax fills up its special ballast tanks in case of an impending storm – the tanks serve as a makeshift anchor.

Principle of Cyclone Separator Image Courtesy of en:User:Cburnett at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cyclone_separator.svg

Principle of Cyclone Separator – (Image Courtesy of en:User:Cburnett)

It will also fold its solar wings and furls its turbines while maintaining a wave-facing direction to minimize resistance to marauding winds. Plus, the trimaran design offers better stability and its bubble-hull design renders it immune to sinking.

Similar Developments

Cleaning Boats are the simplest tools for cleaning oceans and are particularly effective in collecting garbage around harbors. They are not so good with grading the plastic though.

Typically, such river skimmers are fossil-fuel-powered and have to make multiple trips to and from the land-based station. This escalates air pollution and the cleaning boats might do greater harm than good to the environment.

Boyan Slat is only 20. But his brainchild, the Ocean Cleanup Project, may well be the largest cleanup job in history. For, it promises to clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within 10 years. No mean estimate that!

A passive way of ridding the oceans of plastics, it uses winds and ocean currents to naturally drive floating plastics to a number of collection platforms. The project is touted to be 33 times less expensive than present ocean cleanup systems.

It won the Best Technical Design 2012 by the Delft University of Technology and raised $2 million via crowdfunding in November 2014. The first Ocean Cleanup apparatus may be deployed near Tsushima Island in Japan.

Inventor of some of the best vacuum cleaners, Sir James Dyson is aiming to skim plastics off the top of river waters thereby preventing them from reaching the oceans. The instrument for this endeavor is the MV Recyclone.

Dyson is employing the principle of cyclone separation for this endeavor – the same technology that he used in his vacuum cleaners. When you rotate particle-infested fluid at high speeds inside cylindrical or conical enclosures, heavier particles fall to the bottom.

It is not yet clear which fuels will power the MV Recyclone. Powering it with fossil fuels will be counterproductive as back and forth trips will release emissions and do more harm to the environment than good.

The Inner Harbor Water Wheel in Baltimore  Image Courtesy of the Waterfront Partnership at http://baltimorewaterfront.com/healthy-harbor/water-wheel/

The Inner Harbor Water Wheel in Baltimore (Image Courtesy of the Waterfront Partnership)

Also called Mr. Trash Wheel, the Inner Harbor Water Wheel in Baltimore is dual powered. River currents normally power it. But when these are feeble, solar panels take over this responsibility.

Since May 9, 2014, the rotating wheel has collected 384 tons of garbage and debris from the river. The daily maximum for collection stands at 38,000 lbs. Collected trash is incinerated to generate electricity.

Finally

A combination of rising population and consumption levels not only escalates the rate of extraction of resources but also the rate at which we generate wastes.

Our environment can only deal with so much. For everything else, there is human innovation. But we better make it fast. Or the ecological clock will soon strike total apocalypse!

Visit our blog for latest roundups on more such innovative ideas. And for the very best in marine fabrication services, marine pipe fitting, and large scale custom metal fabrication, contact Kemplon Engineering.

Image References:
^ Garbage Patches in Oceans – http://www.bluebird-electric.net/oceanography/Ocean_Plastic_International_Rescue/SeaNet_Ocean_Pollution_Clean_Up_Robotic_Fleet_System.htm
^ Satellite Image of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill  – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill_-_May_24,_2010_-_with_locator.jpg
^ Marine Debris washed up on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kamilo_Beach2_Courtesy_Algalita_dot_org.jpg
^ Effect of Eutrophication on Marine Life – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Scheme_eutrophication-en.svg
^ SeaVax on Display – http://www.bluebird-electric.net/oceanography/Ocean_Plastic_International_Rescue/SeaVax_Ocean_Clean_Up_Robot_Drone_Ship_Sea_Vacuum.htm
^ The Ocean Cleanup Apparatus – http://www.theoceancleanup.com/
^ Principle of Cyclone Separator – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cyclone_separator.svg
^ The Inner Harbor Water Wheel in Baltimore – http://baltimorewaterfront.com/healthy-harbor/water-wheel/