Upgraded Ocean Cleanup Barrier Deployed To Clean The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization attempting to take on the massive task of plastic pollution with its beta cleanup system. The system consists of a 600-meter-long (2,000-ft) floating tube that sits at the surface of the water, with a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below to catch plastic waste. Back in October 2018 they deployed the first edition barrier which had to be hauled back in due to structural failure in January 2019. It was unable to maintain the speeds required to gather up trash, and eventually (under the pressure of constant waves and wind) a stress concentration caused a fatigue fracture in one of its floating barriers. Although the system did not work as intended, the group was not discouraged. They took on the challenge to revise the system with full-hearted spirit and enthusiasm.

During the last campaign, we confirmed many key assumptions of the design, but also encountered two unscheduled learning opportunities: the system did not maintain a sufficient speed, allowing plastic to exit the system, and a stress concentration caused a fatigue fracture in the HDPE floater. By adapting the design to address these unknown learning opportunities, we aim to have a system that can effectively capture plastic and withstand the forces of the ocean.

Just now, at the end of June 2019, The Ocean Cleanup redeployed its barrier in a second attempt to remove the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. The upgraded version is equipped with a couple of new revised features to address the issues from the first attempt.

The basic principle behind the iterative design process is to test, learn, and repeat until you have a proven concept. We do not know with certainty that these proposed options will solve the issues we have encountered. In fact, there may still be further unknowns, as is the nature when doing something that has never been done before. What we do know, is that every day we are not yet operational the plastic pollution problem is not getting better. This is why it is important to return to the GPGP as soon as possible, test these options, and make the necessary adjustments from these findings, also, as quickly as we can.

In addition, the team has improved upon the structural issues by building simpler connections between the barrier and floating skirt and removing large and unnecessary stabilizing structures. They have also taken a more modular approach to its construction, allowing the barrier system to be deployed faster and make alterations without needing to tow the entire thing back to shore.

System 001/B is aimed at proving the technology; however, we accept that we might find more unknowns that will lead to further adaptations to the design. We expect these next few months to be exciting and informative for The Ocean Cleanup. We will keep you updated through our social media channels as we learn more.