Using marine plastic waste to power ocean clean-up ships

Using marine plastic waste to power ocean clean-up ships

Proposals for cleaning up marine plastics currently require the plastic to be unloaded and travel back to port to be refueled onboard. Credits: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

A team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Harvard University believe that the plastic that accumulates in floating islands in the oceans could be used to clean ships. in their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of ScienceThe group describes how marine plastics can be turned into ship fuel.

Earlier research has shown that millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean every year – some of it settles into the land and spreads, and some of it turns into giant garbage dumps floating in remote parts of the ocean. go. Due to the threat this type of plastic poses to marine life, some environmentalists have started cleanup drives. Such operations typically involve sending a ship to a garbage patch, collecting as much of the ship as it can and then bringing it back to port for processing. In this new effort, the researchers suggest that turning plastics into fuel for both the processing machines and the seamless operation of ships would be far more efficient and greener.

The researchers note that the plastic in the waste dump can be converted into a type of oil through hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL). In this process, the plastic is heated to 300–550 °C at a pressure of 250 to 300 times the sea level conditions. The researchers calculated that a ship carrying the HTL converter would be able to produce enough oil to power the HTL converter and the ship’s engine. Under their scenario, plastic collection booms would be permanently deployed at multiple sites around a large garbage patch, capable of loading the collected plastic onto ships.

The researchers acknowledge that burning the oil produced will release carbon into the atmosphere, but note that the amount emitted will still be less than that emitted by a ship burning conventional oil-making voyages to ports. They also note that HTL produces small amounts of solid waste, which will have to be transported back to port, possibly every few months—the extra fuel produced by HTL can be used for these voyages.

‘The Ocean Cleanup’ ship cleans up Pacific plastic first

more information:
Elizabeth R. Belden et al, Thermodynamic feasibility of shipboard conversion of marine plastics to blue diesel for self-powered ocean cleanup, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2021). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2107250118

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Citation: The use of ocean plastic waste on Ocean Cleanup Ships (2021, November 2). Retrieved on 30 March 2022 from

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