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article image19-year-old Dutch student develops ocean cleanup technology

By Brett Wilkins     Mar 27, 2013 in Environment
Delft - A 19-year-old Dutch engineering student has devised what he claims is a profitable way to remove millions of tons of plastic waste from the oceans.
Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineering student at the Delft University of Technology, started the Ocean Cleanup Foundation to tackle the daunting task of removing the massive plastic garbage patches, called gyres, that blanket enormous spreads of the earth's oceans and threaten the planet's marine ecosystems.
The largest of the garbage patches, the North Pacific Gyre, is believed to be twice the size of the United States. It is believed to contain more than 100 million tons of garbage and continues to grow. The plastic contained within the gyres is made up mostly of small bits and pieces which appear to be food to birds and fish, many of which are found dead with stomachs full of plastic. The plastic bits also contain dangerous chemicals such as PCBs and DDTs that, once consumed, make their way up the food chain to humans.
To clean up these gyres, Slat has come up with a concept he calls the Ocean Cleanup Array, a solar-and sea-powered system of 24 sifters anchored to the ocean floor that use the ocean's own currents to channel plastic pieces into miles of interconnected booms. The booms would also allow marine life to avoid becoming trapped. The collected plastic would then be transported to shore and sold.
Slat claims that the Ocean Cleanup Array will be able to remove 7.25 million tons of plastic from the earth's oceans within five years.
"This concept is so efficient, that we estimate that by selling the plastic received from the five gyres, we would make in fact more money than the plan would cost to execute," Slat writes. "In other words, it's profitable."
Slat's design was awarded Best Technical Design at Delft University, and came in second in the iSea Clash of the Concepts sustainable innovation contest sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He is currently looking to partner with plankton biologists, engineers and philanthropists to realize his ambitious design.
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