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SeaVax ocean and river waste cleanup machine


INNOVATION - This amazing autonomous boat was on display at the Old Billingsgate exhibition centre in London on the 9-10th of November 2015. The stand was especially made for this show. As you can see it is possible to tilt the robot vessel so that it is almost vertical. The stand is motorised to revolve at about one revolution in half a minute. Although not ready for this year's outing, it is planned to make the stand interactive with audiences and to fit driven wheels such that the robotic boat and stand combined can give interesting displays, demonstrating the versatility of robotics. The boat is designed to vacuum plastic waste from the polluted oceans and rivers (RiverVax) of the world. Not at this scale. This proof of concept model is only 2.2 metres long. The full size vessel is 44 metres long with a suction head some 13.5 metres wide (44 feet) - making it the world's largest vacuum cleaner. 




Many of the open ocean techno-fixes have died down in the last five years, mostly because the science of plastic pollution tells us plastics fragment quickly, are mostly small particles widely distributed across the globe, and are highly toxic after time at sea - more akin to a smog of plastic rather than a consolidated patch. Recovery is much more challenging than we thought, and the ocean is rapidly beaching it and sinking the smallest particles.

One of the biggest issues around any cleanup contraption is by-catch, the unintended killing of passively floating organisms that can't swim away. The ocean is full of them. Another issue is that open-ocean recovery misses the majority of the trash washing down rivers and blowing off beaches, which typically don't make it to the middle of the ocean before fragmenting into microplastics. Another is the PR challenge of not letting post-consumer cleanup distract the attention of the public and policymakers from circular economy thinking, like upstream design innovations and policy intervention that prevent the problem in the first place.

The merit of open-ocean clean up is that it could capture persistent plastic products like fishing gear that's designed to last years or decades. Catching that before in fragments into microplastic is worthy. The biggest advantage to these clean-up contraptions is deployment upstream. That's where the waste really is the worst. You'll get your biggest bang for your buck, and you will save our seas from The greatest source of contamination. The further upstream you go, the more success you will have.



Revolving show stand Innovate UK 2015


SEAVAX - Has passed proof of concept stage. Many people do not realise that the scale model above is fully functional and the subject of ongoing development. Working smaller than full size can yield results more quickly. The RiverVax version of SeaVax is presently being looked at. This might please those commenting, where we are alive to the issues - or we'd not be able to design the cleanup machine. From inception, river work has been high on the agenda. Unfortunately, we cannot elaborate on design issues more than to say that is the case, where patent law prohibits publication of new art, before application. This would invalidate the intellectual property that Bluebird Marine Systems are developing with the benefit of significant personal investment. At this time they are funded by directors loans - and we are told that under European rules, they do not qualify for Horizon 2020 or any other kind of Dti incentives. 


They will though undertake paid development from governments and other organizations, such as the World Health Organization, World Bank, United Nations and others - in the form of contracts. At the time of writing, we understand that only one government in the East is showing some interest.




Alex Iakimenko

Generally, such a techno-fix is not a fix at all. A techno-fix that makes the recycling of a plastic garbage viable should be a real solution.

David Hohmann

I volunteer with a local watershed protection group in an 80 square mile drainage urban area. We do cleanups near the rivers and on the roadsides, as well as in-channel during low flow summer conditions. Most of what gets into the water seems to get carried away, until some downstream impact in a log snag, floodway channel biofilter temporary trap... Many plastic bags catch on branches on the banks and fill with silt, immobilized for years. Non biodegradable plastic pollutants last for many decades in the environment and will continue to resurface and kill, like old landmines in former war zones.

I strongly agree with your final statement. The closer we are to the source, the easier it is to control the pollution.

That's why I pick up litter from the urban sidewalks and roadways. We all live downstream of one another. It is not somebody else's job to care about this shit. We can all make a positive difference each day if we do what we can, rather than looking away.

I'd like to see cleanup machines at each river mouth and major river junctions in large watersheds. Like the contraption being used now in the harbor at Baltimore MD

I was skeptical of the quote of 24k tons of plastic recovered by the machine cited above and wondered if that is wet or dry weight and whether it includes other "bycatch" biomaterial. As you alluded to


Read more about SeaVax.

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