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Convert the "Great Pacific garbage patch" into usable energy

The northern Pacific Ocean contains possibly as much as 100 million tons of floating plastic particles. Considering a heating value of waste plastics of approx. 40 MJ/kg, this corresponds to 4 exajoules or about 1% of mankind's entire energy consumption of 474 exajoules. In addition to the energy benefit, this big cleanup would enhance biodiversity (from microorganisms to seabirds and fish) end help the entire food chain, all the way up to humans.




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Alicia Gayout May 18, 2014

That is exactly the kind of useless/obnoxious/indesirable waste we have to get rid of ! 

But there is unfortunately a huge technical challenge here : how do you manage to collect waste spread on an area of the Pacific ocean large as a country ? This is extremely costly in terms of fuel, volume, etc.

Perhaps the collected waste could be burnt directly aboard, to recover energy to power the ship and the machines used for waste collection (eg. an articulated arm, a compactor, a grinder...)

Sascha NICK May 18, 2014

Agreed - efficiently collecting this waste is indeed a huge technical challenge, which might warrant a whole new challenge in itself - this would be an interesting one... 

We probably need to look beyond the obvious but inefficient solution of a fleet of oil-powered ships: let's think autonomous solar floating robots, or a chemical / biological solution to transform the waste into something more easily collectable, or influencing the ocean currents (vortex) to reduce the surface of the garbage patch - or a completely different idea.

Nicolas Pierret May 19, 2014

If we can create driver-less airplane to send missiles to Pakistan, we should be able to create drone boat that could circle around this garbage belt to collect plastic and wastes!

If in some way waste becomes a ressources, with economic value, you can be sure that this issue will be solved really fast. Maybe we have to combine this with floating factory, kind of a mother-ship, where all the drone boats will come to unload the garbage, and that will transform this plastic into a precious minerai (plastic ingot, similar to this idea :https://fuseboxepfl.crowdicity.com/post/51715?forPhase=5808)!

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Alicia Gayout May 18, 2014

An young Dutch entrepreneur has set up an ambitious project to solve the problem, combining manta ray-shaped vessels, floating booms and natural currents to concentrate the waste in a reduced area. He claims total cleanup can take as little as 5 years with his idea. Right now, the team is finishing its first feasibility study : http://www.theoceancleanup.com/the-concept.html

There is a "chemical catching effect" too :  PCB and other obnoxious organic molecules naturally adsorb on plastic pieces so they are removed at the same time.

Sascha NICK May 19, 2014

Thanks - very interesting!

Looking forward to the results feasibility study, hopefully soon.

Mayu Takeiri May 19, 2014

Recovery of waste plastic from ocean is interesting and would help the ocean environment.

At the same time, I think it is also important to prevent spilling the waste to the pasific ocean in the long run. I mean, correcting them from river or seacoast.

Do you have any ideas for this approach?

Sascha NICK May 19, 2014

Sure, preventing the garbage patch from forming in the first place (i.e. how we use and dispose of plastics) would just as important. Local collection might be more difficult to coordinate, as about 80% comes from hundreds of thousands of rivers as coast areas spread over a hundred countries, and about 20% from countless ships flying many national flags.


Nicolas Schüwer May 19, 2014

Actually not only the great pacific garbage patch could be a source of raw material. If you ever walked on any beach, you might have noticed that the sea always bring back plastic waste to the cost. We could also collect those plastics waste; how do you think?

Sascha NICK May 19, 2014

Indeed, our oceans and seas are polluted in many places (example "Note to Olympic Sailors: Don’t Fall in Rio’s Water" http://nyti.ms/1gXrZXt), each warranting its own cleanup and re-use program. Peronally, I focus on the Great Pacific garbage patch because of the large quantity of waste in one place in international waters, so a potential solution, once proven, should be able to scale quickly.

Alexandre Gubert May 19, 2014

This huge amont of plastic can indeed be a huge source of raw materials, one of the most interesting projects about that is to use that plastic exactly where it is captured : on the ocean! The idea is to create artificial floating islands with this plastic, resolving both the pollution problem and the climate refugees problem, using the island as a host city!



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Yves Loerincik May 19, 2014

Good idea to find a way to remove that plastic from the ocean and, I guess, not an easy technical problem. Isn't there a lot of plastic not burned or recovered on land to be valorised first? 

Geronimo Molina May 20, 2014

even when it's logical , I couldn't concibe a energy circuit based on garbage as raw material .. wath if you wanna scale it or something ? ..

best greetings. :)



Mayu Takeiri May 21, 2014

In addition to the discussion about waste plastic, are there any other waste as "potential" raw material?
"Potential" means enough amount as raw material, enable get a return with converting etc...