The Ocean Cleanup develops and scales technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. To achieve this, we have focused our initial ocean cleaning efforts where we can make maximum impact: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or GPGP) located between California and Hawaii, where our first experimental large-scale cleaning solution, System 002, has been harvesting plastic throughout its 2021 and 2022 test campaigns.
Our ocean cleaning technology is now validated, and consistent removal of plastic from the GPGP is now a reality. The next step in our mission is to transition from this successful trial system toward a system large and efficient enough to clean the entire GPGP.
We now move towards the scale-up phase of our project with System 03, three times the size of System 002 and capable of capturing much larger quantities of plastic at a lower cost per kilogram removed on a continuous year-round basis. We believe the huge increases in both size and uptime can result in a system that is ten times as effective as its predecessor.
Cleaning the entire GPGP requires a blueprint for our ocean cleaning systems. With System 03, we aim to deliver the blueprint design for scaling toward a fleet of systems.
BIGGER, BETTER, AND MORE EFFICIENT
System 002 demonstrated that The Ocean Cleanup’s systems can successfully and consistently harvest plastic. Now this is proven, the transition to System 03 and parallel test campaign will allow us to progress to the next phase of our cleanup – optimizing our blueprint and expanding to a full fleet of systems to clean the entire GPGP.
To do this, we are focusing on one performance indicator above all: our cost per kilogram of plastic removed from the ocean.
To rid the oceans of plastic, we need a cleanup approach that can match the immense size of the problem. The GPGP covers a massive area – three times the size of France, or twice the size of Texas – and cleaning the whole thing requires a fleet of systems. How big this fleet needs to be, and the costs of producing and operating that fleet, will depend on the size, performance, and capture efficiency of the individual systems. By increasing size, optimizing operational performance (i.e., less downtime), and increasing capture efficiency, we aim to produce a much more efficient system that will become the blueprint for our fleet.
In simple terms: using bigger systems makes cleaning the ocean more economical.
You could, in theory, clean the entire GPGP with a fleet of the current System 002 designs – but it would prove impossibly expensive. The key difference is that a fleet of System 002 designs would require more than 50 systems to fully clean the GPGP, whereas with the increase in scale and optimized overall efficiency of System 03, our modeling suggests it may be possible to clean the entire GPGP with as few as 10 systems. That’s why we knocked off one of the zeroes from ‘002’ when we named ‘03’ – we no longer need a three-figure amount of systems to clean all five ocean garbage patches around the world.
Here’s the point: when it comes to cleaning the oceans, size matters. Bigger systems mean fewer support vessels, which are the main cost driver (and the main carbon emitter) in our operations. In short, bigger systems mean a lower cost/kg.
That’s why we’re going big with System 03 – to reduce our cost per kilogram. Our costs are almost entirely related to the support vessels, so expanding the size of the system to remove more plastic per vessel, and employing a ‘rotating’ third vessel to allow a more continuous cleaning frequency, allows us to drive down the anticipated cost per kilogram of plastic removed towards our target figure. Although size is the most important parameter on our way to achieving this, we also need to address other design and engineering issues, but we expect to arrive at the point where the full cleanup of the GPGP is economically realistic.
We aim to make the cleanup of the entire GPGP economically viable, and the size increase, alongside upgrades to optimize uptime, structural integrity, and capture efficiency, means System 03 brings us closer to this goal.
A SMOOTH TRANSITION
We’re not just going to bring System 002 home and put a brand new System 03 in its place. We will transition from one to the other in stages, producing and deploying new and upgraded components, which will be introduced one after another so we can analyze and learn from data at every point in the transition. This approach reduces operational risk during the transition and allows us to make improvements incrementally, meaning we can evaluate the impact of the various com-potent improvements individually. By transitioning the system at sea, we can keep cleaning the ocean during upgrading and testing.
A. In the first stage, a new Retention Zone (where the plastic is held prior to extraction) will be added to System 002. This new Retention Zone is more than twice the size of the previous one in preparation for the increased catch, and we’ll call this System 002/A.
B. Next, we’ll switch out the old wings (the long arms which guide the floating plastic into the Retention Zone) and replace them with an upgraded set addressing structural weaknesses identified in System 002 (including measures to address overtopping) and increasing the depth from 3m to 4m to increase capture efficiency. We will maintain the existing operating length of 800m for this, termed System 002/B. We’ll then conduct tests to ensure operability and only extend further once we’re sure everything is working efficiently and achieving our targets.
C. System 002/C will then extend the wings to a total length of 1600m, the maximum length possible with only two support vessels. We will then introduce our ‘rotation model’ involving a third vessel, allowing us to continue harvesting continuously throughout the year and further drive down our cost per kilogram of plastic removed.
Finally, we will gradually extend the length of the wings until they reach a total length of roughly 2.5km. We expect to reach this point by Q2 of 2023. At this point, the transition will be complete: System 03, our blueprint for cleaning the world’s garbage patches.
ADDRESSING LESSONS LEARNED
After nearly a year of operating at sea, System 002 has generated invaluable insights into performance and efficiency, and our engineers and researchers have incorporated these learnings into our upgrades and improvements to System 03. The design and development of System 03 have therefore been driven by learnings from System 002
The issue of ‘overtopping’ – plastic that rides the waves over System 002’s floats and evades capture – was tackled in one of The Ocean Cleanup’s ‘hot-house’ problem-solving sessions. Overtopping results in only a small amount of plastic lost, but every kilogram lost reduces capture efficiency, and solving the problem would therefore reduce our cost per kilogram removed. This marathon of brainstorming resulted in five optimization concepts, some of which we will be tested in real-life conditions during the transition to System 03. As we clean, we will gain more data on performance and can use this data to optimize our systems throughout the transition.
Battling the elements
It’s not surprising that conditions at sea become more challenging during the winter. This meant refining the timing of our extractions and making smart decisions when choosing where and when to deploy. Our ‘plastic hotspot’ modeling has been working well and is improving all the time, and will continue to help us identify where and when we should focus our cleaning efforts in the GPGP for the best results.
To solve the plastic pollution problem, we need to understand it, and our cleanup approach involves as much software as hardware. Our advanced computational modeling has proven highly effective in helping us identify and predict areas of high-density plastic and drive our steering strategy accordingly, helping us further increase efficiency and lower our cleanup costs.
By cleaning the world’s oceans, our goal is to maximize our net positive impact on the marine environment. Our environmental management plan for System 002 has operated extremely successfully so far, with plastic comprising 99.8% of our total catch and independent environmental assessments confirming our responsible management of encounters with marine life. Nevertheless, our Environmental team is always looking for ways to further optimize our positive impact of our cleanup, and we have taken key learnings from System 002 and incorporated them into the design of System 03.
We already compensate 100% of the CO2 emissions coming from our support vessels. However, scaling up to a larger size and harvesting more plastic additionally helps reduce our CO2 emissions per area of ocean cleaned, limiting our environmental impact even further. By continuing to harvest plastic on a greater scale, the cost of our cleanup in both financial and ecological terms will drop – and will keep dropping as we scale up even more.
SCALING UP THE LARGEST CLEANUP IN HISTORY
System 03 isn’t just ‘the next version’ of our cleaning technology. It’s the culmination of years of design, testing, refinement, and operation in real-world conditions. By increasing the system to mammoth proportions and enhancing performance and cost efficiency, System 03 will prepare us for scale-up.
System 002 has shown that our technology works. Now it’s time to scale up that technology into something that can clean the GPGP and the world’s other garbage patches at an economically viable cost. We encourage you to keep up to date on our website and social media channels as we begin turning this potential into reality.
Our ambition remains the same: we aim to rid the oceans of plastic, and with System 03 as our blueprint, we are one step closer to getting it done. Let’s get to work.