Future Vacuum To Clear Ocean Plastic?

Future Vacuum To Clear Ocean Plastic?

A spring storm had retreated inland during the night, leaving a canopy of unbroken clouds over Mission Bay. About 20 engineering students and others gathered in the morning chill to launch a cockeyed-looking vessel, mechanical guts fully visible, into the still water.

The contraption’s hull, cannibalized from a 16-foot, decades-old catamaran, supported a conveyor belt, motor and array of batteries the size of a picnic cooler. Solar panels were mounted like an awning atop the aluminum frame. Its creators had relied on off-the-shelf materials during construction and christened the result FRED — an endearing acronym for floating robot for eliminating debris.

“We’re just happy that it floats,” joked Justin Ho, a mechanical engineering major at the University of California at San Diego, who took the first turn at remotely steering the prototype around the bay using a modified video-game controller.

Grand, maybe unrealistic, hopes ride on FRED, whose baptism last month was only a first test for the students and a small start-up called Clear Blue Sea. Like other emerging ventures around the world, the nonprofit group is trying to help solve one of the planet’s most daunting problems: oceans littered with plastic. By next spring, the Californians hope to deliver a proven design for a 50-foot version of FRED capable of autonomously collecting trash on open bodies of water. They also plan to make their blueprints public to accelerate research.

“We all need to do our part,” said Susan Baer, a former management consultant who abandoned retirement to found Clear Blue Sea four years ago. Otherwise, “this stuff is never going to go away."

For the full article, visit WashingtonPost.com.

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