Featured Image: Business Insider
The Plastic Scourge
In recent years, it has become common knowledge that plastics, especially single use ones, are harming the world’s oceans. Right now, there are more pieces of plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way. There are five massive “patches” in the world where plastic pollution has concentrated. The largest of these patches lies between California and Hawaii and is the size of Texas. It has gotten so bad that by 2050 scientists project that all the plastic in the ocean will outweigh all the fish.
Animals like turtles and whales cannot distinguish between food and plastic. As a result more and more animals are being found dead with huge amounts of plastic in their stomachs. In March, a dead whale was found to have 88 pounds of plastic in its belly. Ingestion isn’t the only way ocean plastics are harming marine life. Every year about 100,000 animals die from plastic entanglement. Luckily, some enterprising scientists are working on solutions to end, or at least mitigate, the amount of plastic currently wreaking havoc in the ocean.
FRED To The Rescue
Interns from the University of San Diego are currently testing a new invention called FRED, or the Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris. FRED is a solar powered robot with a conveyor belt that moves trash from the water into a collection bin. FRED features a camera on the inside of its roof which serves as the eyes for the operator controlling the robot from shore.
The version currently being tested is the second-phase of a four-phase project. If everything goes as planned, phase 4 will come online in 2023. The current prototype can run for 3 to 5 hours, but designers aim to create a version that can run 24/7.
BIG Problem, Nano Solution
On the other side of the world, researchers published a paper detailing a different solution to the same problem. A study recently published in Matter, details a new type of nanotechnology that might help break down the plastic in the ocean. Researchers created tiny “nano-coils” that create chemical reactions that can break down the microplastics in the ocean by converting plastic into carbon dioxide and water.
The nano-coils are microscopic tubes shaped like bed springs. The coils are made of carbon and coated with nitrogen and manganese. The latter two elements interact with the nano-coils to create reactive oxygen molecules. These molecules then attack and break down microplastics.
Researchers added the nano-coils to water samples and observed a 30-50% reduction in microplastics in an 8 hour period. The coils can then be removed from the water using magnets for reuse.
Like FRED, this technology is still at the proof of concept stage, but it is still an exciting step towards a healthier, less polluted ocean.