This new technology could help clean ocean plastic pollution
Tuesday, August 1, 2017, 4:09 - A new system designed by a postgraduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art (RCA) aims to challenge the perception that removing plastics from the ocean is too expensive or unfeasible.
Robert Edwin Rouse's design, Remora, is billed as a hybrid turbo-machinery system for the reclamation and prevention of ocean plastics, providing marine energy and propulsion, while removing micro plastics from the water.
"The solutions that have been offered up have been considered cost-prohibitive or they lack the scale needed to tackle the problem," Rouse told Reuters. "The scale of it is huge, there's a large amount of plastic."
Environmental group Greenpeace has said plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans, and the smaller the plastic particle, the more insidious a threat it can pose to the entire ocean ecosystem. Plastic debris has been found littering the oceans from the North to the South Poles and around remote Pacific islands.
By combining two technology streams, Remora filters and removes ocean plastic pollution while providing marine energy or thrust, dependent on whether the variant deployed is the static generator or dynamic thruster.
"The Remora unit comes in two different variants -- the first is a power generation unit that comprises a marine turbine with a filtration mechanism, and the other is a marine propulsion unit that can be fitted to ships and provide thrust as well as ocean plastic filtration," Rouse said.
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Rouse added that this means that the Remora can be deployed on a global scale, minimising the cost of cleaning up ocean pollution. Furthermore, this is done whilst ensuring minimal collateral damage to marine life.
"The system has been designed to handle smaller plastics, so although it won't handle a plastic bag, you can reconfigure the layout to handle a variety of different sizes, such as anything ranging from 20 millimetre to 1 millimetre plastic particles."
Plankton, the inevitable by-catch of the filtration process, can be isolated from the plastic particles and returned through this system to the ocean, ensuring that the only material extracted is the foreign one.
From fishing lines to flip flops, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world's oceans, according to a 2014 study published in a Public Library of Science journal. UK-based charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that, measured by weight, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
Plastic degrades over time into tiny particles known as microplastics which can be ingested by marine life, together with plastic microbeads used in toiletries and other household products, harming the food chain and environment.