The Continued Boondoggle of the Ocean Cleanup

The end of 2018 was tough for the Ocean Cleanup and its founder, inventor, and CEO Boyan Slat.   In September, the 2000 foot-boom and supposed plastic collection device, was first deployed about 240 nautical miles offshore of San Francisco where it was tested for two weeks.  The boom was then towed an additional 1,400 miles off the West Coast, about halfway between California and Hawaii, to begin collecting plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  This was supposed to be the first real-world proof of concept and trials of the device in the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Note that the previous prototype in the North Sea also failed at a shallower depth in calm seas. Of course, the next step is to build a bigger one and place it in rougher and deeper seas.

But in November, Ocean Cleanup stated the system was not holding plastic it collected.  This lack of plastic collection arose from the system moving too slowly at times to hold plastic within the U-shaped collection area.  The system is supposed to work by currents pushing plastics into the booms and nets.  Yet slow and complex currents in this region of the Pacific allowed plastics to float out of the device again.

In late December, 60-feet of boom had detached due to material fatigue.  Slat then indicated that this likely occurred due to wave action placing stress on the boom. The fracture was caused by material fatigue, he wrote. That’s likely because of the intense action of the waves that puts tremendous stress on objects in the water.

So to recap, the Ocean Cleanup system cannot either collect plastic or withstand the Pacific Ocean.

 In a September interview with NPR, he said the device averages about four inches per second, which his team has now concluded is too slow. The break in the barrier was due to an issue with the material used to build it.

However, both of these issues could have easily been avoided by more appropriate simulations, analyses, and information prior to construction and deployment.

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