Ocean Cleanup System 3 – A Mile of Tech

The Ocean Cleanup System 3 is more than a mile long and is finally the real deal.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Ocean Cleanup System 3 is more than a mile long and is finally the real deal. Image The Ocean Cleanup.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Ocean Cleanup System 3 is more than a mile long and is finally the real deal.

The vast expanse of our oceans faces a growing and insidious enemy – plastic pollution. Millions of tons of plastic waste enter the waters each year, creating vast garbage patches and disrupting delicate marine ecosystems. The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization, stands as a determined warrior in this fight, wielding innovative technologies to combat this global crisis. Their mission is ambitious: to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. However, the enormity of this challenge demands a multifaceted approach, one that The Ocean Cleanup embraces wholeheartedly.

The Ocean Cleanup System 3 was conceived in 2011 by its founder Boyan Slat, who was just 16 years old at the time. While on a family vacation in the Mediterranean Sea, Slat was shocked to encounter more plastic than fish. This spurred his idea to develop a passive system for collecting ocean plastic, harnessing the natural currents to concentrate and extract the debris.

In 2012, Slat dropped out of his aerospace engineering studies to pursue his ocean cleanup concept full-time. He conducted a feasibility study, consulting over 100 scientists and field experts to validate and refine his idea. This culminated in a detailed model and deployment strategy for the cleanup arrays.

In 2013, Slat presented his plastic cleanup concept at a TEDx event, generating global interest. Leveraging crowdfunding, The Ocean Cleanup raised over $2 million from over 38,000 supporters in 2014 to initiate the project’s development phase.

Using the crowdfunded capital, the non-profit built progressively larger models to test their passive plastic collection technology in controlled environments in the Netherlands. Key design iterations improved efficiency and durability before advancing to real-world ocean trials.

See also: Ocean Cleanup Interceptor to Clean 1,000 Rivers in 5 Years.

The organization’s most visible effort lies in its ocean cleaning systems – large, floating barriers designed to capture plastic debris as currents carry them passively. The journey began with System 1, deployed in 2016.  This initial prototype, a 1/2 mile-long floating barrier, was a crucial learning experience. The challenges of a rigid design in rough seas became apparent as System 1 struggled to maintain its shape.  Undeterred, The Ocean Cleanup used this learning to inform the development of System 2 (affectionately nicknamed Jenny), launched in 2018. 

Jenny’s shorter and segmented design offered greater maneuverability. More importantly, it successfully captured over 280,000 kilograms of plastic waste, proving the concept’s basic functionality. However, Jenny’s smaller size limited its overall plastic capture capacity.

2023 marked a significant turning point with the launch of Ocean Cleanup System 3. This iteration represents a leap forward, not just in size (more than a mile long), but also in functionality.  Ocean Cleanup System 3 embodies a full-scale operational model designed to address the limitations of its predecessors:

Scale: Ocean Cleanup System 3 is significantly larger than its predecessors, allowing for a much greater capacity to capture plastic debris.

Retention Zone: A dedicated area within Ocean Cleanup System 3, the retention zone ensures efficient collection of captured plastic, preventing it from escaping back into the ocean.

Environmental Friendliness: The mesh size in the Ocean Cleanup System 3 retention zone is adjustable, allowing any marine life that might become entangled to escape unharmed.

The launch of Ocean Cleanup System 3 signifies a crucial stage in The Ocean Cleanup’s mission. Founder Boyan Slat indicates that at it’s current capture rate, the Pacific garbage patch could be cleaned up in ten years. It’s a testament to the organization’s unwavering commitment to innovation and continuous improvement that this is conceivable.  However, their approach extends far beyond simply cleaning up existing plastic debris.

The Ocean Cleanup recognizes that preventing new plastic from entering the oceans is equally important. This holistic approach is evident in their riverine efforts. Millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans through rivers, particularly those flowing through densely populated areas with inadequate waste management.  The Ocean Cleanup’s solution is the Interceptor, a specialized floating barrier system strategically placed in these rivers.  The Interceptor functions like a giant colander, capturing plastic waste before it reaches the ocean.  The captured plastic is then collected and transported for proper disposal.  The goal is to deploy Interceptors in the 1,000 most polluting rivers globally, significantly reducing plastic flow from these sources.

This two-pronged attack – cleaning existing plastic and preventing new plastic from entering – exemplifies The Ocean Cleanup’s comprehensive strategy.  Furthermore, the organization doesn’t shy away from tackling the root causes of plastic pollution.  They actively advocate for policy changes that promote responsible plastic use and production.  Additionally, they collaborate with industry leaders to encourage a shift towards sustainable alternatives.

The fight against plastic pollution is a complex and ongoing battle.  Yet, The Ocean Cleanup’s unwavering dedication and innovative solutions, like the recently launched Ocean Cleanup System 3, offer a glimmer of hope.  Their multifaceted approach, encompassing ocean cleaning, riverine interception, and advocacy for change, demonstrates a commitment to tackling the problem at its core.  As The Ocean Cleanup continues to refine its technologies and foster global collaboration, a future with cleaner oceans and a healthier planet seems increasingly within reach.

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