noun: work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.
verb: waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.
The end of 2018 was tough for the Ocean Cleanup and its founder, inventor, and CEO Boyan Slat. In September, the 2000 foot-boom and supposed plastic collection device, was first deployed about 240 nautical miles offshore of San Francisco where it was tested for two weeks. The boom was then towed an additional 1,400 miles off the West Coast, about halfway between California and Hawaii, to begin collecting plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This was supposed to be the first real-world proof of concept and trials of the device in the Pacific Garbage Patch.
Note that the previous prototype in the North Sea also failed at a shallower depth in calm seas. Of course, the next step is to build a bigger one and place it in rougher and deeper seas.
But in November, Ocean Cleanup stated the system was not holding plastic it collected. This lack of plastic collection arose from the system moving too slowly at times to hold plastic within the U-shaped collection area. The system is supposed to work by currents pushing plastics into the booms and nets. Yet slow and complex currents in this region of the Pacific allowed plastics to float out of the device again.
In late December, 60-feet of boom had detached due to material fatigue. Slat then indicated that this likely occurred due to wave action placing stress on the boom. The fracture was caused by material fatigue, he wrote. That’s likely because of the intense action of the waves that puts tremendous stress on objects in the water.
So to recap, the Ocean Cleanup system cannot either collect plastic or withstand the Pacific Ocean.
In a September interview with NPR, he said the device averages about four inches per second, which his team has now concluded is too slow. The break in the barrier was due to an issue with the material used to build it.
However, both of these issues could have easily been avoided by more appropriate simulations, analyses, and information prior to construction and deployment.
When the material failure occurred, it wasn’t due to the result of a major Pacific storm. It was just normal wear and tear, Slat said
Understanding material stresses is a key component of an engineering project and one that is well understood before construction. Note as well that the system is not something actually new, but is a modification of RO-BOOMS used in oil spill clean up since 1988. I am confident the specifications for use and the ocean states the booms can operate in are well known by the manufacturer and previous users alike. [UPDATE: The booms used ar eno longer the RO-BOOMS. It is a completely different design, a recent internal iteration which may explain the failure.]
And while currents are complex, a whole field of physical oceanography exists and provides readily the information to know the current regime in the area. If more detailed temporal or spatial resolution is needed, the Ocean Cleanup team should have conducted more field studies to gain the data on the currents beforehand. The Ocean Cleanup has always seemed poorly developed and executed, ignorant of the best science and data available, blatantly dismissive of critique, and far too hurried.
This rush to place the device in the ocean for both good publicity and for the feeling of accomplishing something is unproductive at best and dangerous at the worst. And it clear that Slat is committed to an overly ambitious timeline no matter the consequences.
Founder & CEO Boyan Slat announced the news in a December 31 blog post, saying “setbacks like this are inevitable when pioneering new technology at a rapid pace”, and maintaining that ” these teething troubles are solvable, and the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be operational in 2019″.
Read more at http://www.mysailing.com.au/latest/ocean-cleanup-s-20-million-plastic-catcher-breaks#1R7mecWOPU9tLbJl.99
I get no pleasure in saying I told you so but…
As noted in a recent article featuring Dr. Goldstein,
But a critic who has followed Slat’s project since he unveiled it more than five years ago said the failure was predictable and that systems deployed closer to shore stand a greater chance of slowing the deluge of plastics spilling into the world’s oceans.
“I certainly hope they will be able to get it to work, but this is a very difficult environment where equipment breaks, which is why you normally do things closer to shore, where things are easier to repair,” said [Dr.] Miriam Goldstein, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress
In 2014, Drs. Kim Martini and Drs. Miriam Goldstein, a physical and biological oceanographer, provided a detailed technical review of the feasibility study here at DSN. Note the two of them pointed nearly 4 years ago about these issues.
….The modeling studies severely underestimate potential loads and tensions on the moored array and boom. Therefore, they are insufficient to properly design a mooring concept and estimate potential costs…
Since the authors had access to ORCAFLEX, a professional software package to design offshore marine structures, a full-scale mooring array could have been modeled to estimate loads and tensions on the moored array, but was not.
Structural deformation of the array and loss of functionality by ocean currents are not addressed…
Yeah. So these exact failures were predicted four years ago.