Giant Ocean Cleanup Machine

Boyan Slat, who first set out a vision of his Ocean Cleanup machine in a TED talk six years ago when he was just 17, today announced that he’ll begin hauling trash from the Patch in 2018. The news is vindication for the project, which has received plenty of TED-sized hype and millions of dollars in philanthropy.

Due to what he calls a “technological breakthrough,” Slat hopes the project will be cheaper and more effective than previously anticipated. Instead of removing 42% of the trash in the garbage patch over 10 years at a cost of $320 million, he now expects to collect 50% of total trash in just five years, and at a cost “significantly less” than $320 million.

Slat’s design involves massive booms that collect trash using the Pacific’s own currents. The booms act as an “artificial coastline” passively catching and then concentrating debris into the center, from where it’s offloaded to a boat that sweeps by periodically (probably once a month). The “breakthrough” is that Slat no longer thinks that the booms need to be grounded to the ocean floor.

Using a floating system has advantages in both cost and time, Slat says. The team no longer has to dig foundations at up to 2.8 miles deep and it can skip a prototyping stage. “We thought ‘wait a minute, instead of fixing it to the seabed, we can fix it in that deep-water layer,” Slat says in an interview from his Delft base, in the Netherlands. “The massive sea anchor slows down the system so it travels slower than at the surface, and the plastic still accumulates along the barrier and toward the center the system.”

The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, now numbering 65 people, will begin testing a 0.6-mile prototype later this year, before full deployment in 2018. It recently announced it has raised more than $30 million for the effort, including $21.7 million since last November. Most of that has come from Silicon Valley apparently, including from Marc and Lynne Benioff, of Salesforce fame, and PayPal cofounder Peter. Other donations have come from the Julius Baer Foundation, Dutch multinational Royal DSM, and an anonymous benefactor.

As he was developing designs for the devices, Slat had imagined one massive device, perhaps extending as much as 60 miles. He now envisages up to 50 devices of 0.6 miles each.

Slat’s calculation for the cleanup rate is a very big estimate. But his foundation, through several expeditions by boat and by plane, has mapped the Patch’s trash extensively. Slat, who’s still only 22, expects to collect tens of thousands of tons of debris a year, and for each device to need emptying (by a “garbage truck of the oceans”) every month or so. It’s not known how much trash is in the Patch, though it’s probably of the order of hundreds of thousands of tons. Scientists have estimated there are five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, weighing more than 250,000 tons in total.


The Seabin

UK waterways are about to get a lot cleaner with the launch of the world’s first production Seabin in Portsmouth harbor. The device, which was developed by a pair of Australian surfers, works by sucking in various kinds of pollution (including oil) and spitting out clean water. The Seabin can collect approximately 1.5 kg of waste each day and has a capacity of 12 kg — and in a given year, a single bin can collect 20,000 plastic bottles or 83,000 plastic bags.

The Seabin was first unveiled in December 2015. To fund the invention, founders Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski created an IndieGoGo campaign. With little time to spare, the campaign exceeded its goal.

Equipped with $250,000, Turton and Ceglinski are now prepared to follow through with their plan, which entails cleaning up marinas with the natural fiber garbage bin and an automated, above-the-water pump. The device was designed with marine safety in mind – only debris and chemical pollution on the surface of the water is collected; fish and other aquatic creatures are left alone.

The Times reports that the Seabin was installed near the base of the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team in the Portsmouth harbor. The group is passionate about environmental efforts – not only have members pledged to give up meat every Monday, they only consume sustainable seafood. Now, they’ve agreed to oversee the Seabin, which will improve the quality of water while protecting the cage of over 1,000 oysters near the pontoon.

The Seabin team are also conducting trials at Spain’s Port Adriano and the Port of Helsinki (Finland). In early November, the innovative device will go on sale for £3,000 ($3,957).


Recycling Waste Plastic Into Oil

The world is facing a growing environmental problem with plastic, which is slowly filling up our oceans. Only a very small percentage of waste plastic gets recycled, and while a caterpillar may help in the long term, we really need a quick fix to responsibly deal with the material. That fix looks likely to come from a British company called Recycling Technologies (RT).

As reported by Bloomberg, RT is located in Swindon in southwest England where it is run by CEO Adrian Griffiths. He and his 22-strong team have managed to create a refinery machine called the RT7000 for dealing with all types of waste plastic. You put plastic in one end and three types of oil can be produced out the other.

The process is based on a similar technique to that used for thermal cracking. The plastic is first cleaned of any foreign objects such as dirt or food, then it is heated to 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) using "hot sand-like particles." This breaks down the carbon bonds in the plastic and turns it into a vapor. The components that make up the plastic have different boiling points, allowing the three different products to be created.

In the most simple terms, crude oil to plastic conversion creates very long hydrocarbons. The RT refinery makes those hydrocarbons short again. The oil produced is called Plaxx. In terms of production, for every 7,000 tons of plastic put in you get 5,000 tons of Plaxx, with one machine located in Scotland expected to achieve that output per year.

The three types of fuel produced include a light yellow oil suitable for petrochemical companies, a candle wax-like oil ideal for use by ship engines, and a very thick brown wax oil that can be used for shoe polishing and cosmetics.

An RT7000 machine is about the size of a tennis court and can be installed anywhere there is a need (transporting it required just five shipping containers). It costs roughly $3.8 million to install and then a further $647,000 a year to run. However, RT claims each machine generates revenue of $2.2 million, suggesting it pays for itself within three years.

With the RT7000 proven to work and be cost effective, Griffiths wants to have 100 of the machines operational under lease by 2025.


The Envirobot and Water Pollution

Lake Geneva’s latest resident—all four feet of it—is neither man nor beast. Dubbed the Envirobot, the critter is a biomimetic robot designed by Swiss researchers to pinpoint the source of pollution in tainted waters. Bereft of fins or propellers, Envirobot slithers through water like an eel, leaving mud and aquatic life undisturbed. Just as stealthily, it uses sensors to gather data from various locations, which it transmits to a remote computer in near-instantaneous fashion.

Even for an automaton, Envirobot is uncommonly clever. Besides its capacity to follow a preprogrammed path, it can also make its own decisions, independently sniffing out the origin of the contamination.

“There are many advantages to using swimming robots,” said Auke Ijspeert, head of biorobotics at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in a statement. “They can take measurements and send us data in real-time—much faster than if we had measurement stations set up around the lake.”

The serpentine design, which is supported by a series of small electric motors, has several advantages, as well. “Compared with conventional propeller-driven underwater robots, they are less likely to get stuck in algae or branches as they move around,” Ijspeert said. “What’s more, they produce less of a wake, so they don’t disperse pollutants as much.”

Funded through a grant from Switzerland’s Nano-Tera program, Envirobot comprises several modules. Some of these contain conductivity and temperature sensors; others have miniaturized biological sensors that harbor bacteria, small crustacean, or fish cells that respond to water toxicity in different ways.

The modular tack also makes it easy for engineers to change Envirobot’s composition or vary its length when the occasion calls for it.

“The robot can be easily taken apart, transported to a remote water reservoir, for example, and put back together to begin testing,” said Behzad Bayat, another biorobotics scientist at EPFL.

Already, Envirobot has taken several dips in Lake Geneva. It recently underwent a test that simulated water pollution by diffusing salt into a tiny area just off the shore, changing the water’s conductivity. The ersatz eel, researchers said, performed swimmingly.

Although the ultimate goal is for Envirobot to pick up heavy metals and other pollutants, field tests for the “eel’s” biological components are trickier to carry out.

“We obviously can’t contaminate a lake like we do the test water in our lab,” said Jan Roelof van der Meer, project coordinator and head of the department of fundamental microbiology at the University of Lausanne. “For now, we will continue using salt as the contaminant until the robot can easily find the source of the contamination. Then we will add biological sensors to the robot and carry out tests with toxic compounds.”


Biodegradable Pack Beer

SaltWater Brewery in South Florida is the first brewery to test biodegradable six-pack rings. Designed by start-up E6PR, the Eco Six-Pack Ring is made from wheat and barley, which allows it to be composte.

And best of all? The six-pack ring is not harmful to aquatic life if swallowed. If widely adopted, this groundbreaking product could result in a significant decrease in both plastic pollution and wildlife injuries or deaths related to ingestion of or entrapment in six-pack rings.

Initially introduced as a concept in 2016, E6PR’s green six-pack holder required considerable fine-tuning, a process that continues as the startup aims to expand production. “Bringing the product to the level of performance that we have right now was really challenging,” Francisco Garcia, Chief Operating Officer at E6PR, told Fast Company.

Since the current model is made from wheat and barley, it is technically edible, though human consumption of the product is not advised. The next iteration will be made from brewing waste by-products in a production facility soon to open in Mexico.

If the current roll-out of E6PR’s green six-pack holder proves successful, the startup hopes to expand the product’s usage to other breweries. In addition to its collaboration with craft beer maker SaltWater Brewery, E6PR is also working with a large brewing company to test the scalability of the product. “For Big Beer, it’s really about making sure that we can not only produce the E6PRs, but also apply them at the speed that those lines require,” Marco Vega, co-founder of ad agency and E6PR collaborative partner We Believers, told Fast Company.

E6PR also hopes to bring its green drink packaging to other beverages like soda. As E6PR and other companies race to release market-competitive, green packaging products, consumers and environmentalists have reason to hope the tide may someday turn against plastic pollution, more than 8 million tons of which is dumped into the world’s oceans each year.


Bobcat Beach Cleaner

The US-based Bobcat has launched the SC200 Sand Cleaner attachment for use with both standard and high flow versions of the T590, T650, T770 and T870 CTL compact tracked loader (CTL) models.

With a working width of 1,900mm, a working depth of up to 200 mm and a bucket capacity of 350l, the Bobcat Sand Cleaner is designed to quickly sift through wet or dry sand and soil for small debris.

It is therefore ideal for use on beaches, for the facility management of sand-based sports fields or horse racing tracks, and for the clean-up of project sites in the desert after work has been completed.

The SC200 has proved itself capable of cleaning surfaces at a rate of up to 15000 m²/h, and its productivity is further facilitated by a hydraulic hopper gate allowing debris to be swiftly discharged.

The tool adds to a range of over 70 different attachment families available to Bobcat machines, and, for example, complements the existing Bobcat Root Grapple designed to pick up larger material.

The controllability is ensured by a combination of hydraulic depth control; the hydraulic bucket discharge; ACD control; interchangeable grids (4 sizes); a back blade for a nice finish; a diverter valve/drain line and an auto-lubricating bearing seal for a maintenance-free design.

All Bobcat compact loaders are also equipped with the quick-change Bob-Tach attachment mounting system, allowing them to be combined quickly and safely with several hundred Bobcat attachments.

Since trapped line pressure can make attachment changes anything but quick, Bobcat loaders also come with a feature to release trapped pressure: by simply pushing the coupler inward, the hydraulic oil is released through a return line back into the machine.

The optional Power Bob-Tach system allows operators to change non-hydraulic attachments without even leaving the cab, activated by a switch that raises and lowers the Bob-Tach levers hydraulically.