Scientists all over the world are united in their quest to discover ways to combat the growing problem of climate change. It has become the sole focus of scientific research as our planet is deteriorating rapidly. One such recent pioneering innovation has been the development of a prototype that makes use of the detrimental greenhouse gas methane, to clear the oceans of microplastics.This prototype employs just 3 simple steps:
- Sequestering methane to produce methanol
- Powering a triboelectrostatic separator that collects microplastics
- Maintenance and removal of plastic from the device.
Methane is an environmentally hazardous greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in heating up the Earth. “Methane removal would reverse one-sixth of the total warming effect of all greenhouses gases in the atmosphere,” says Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and lead author of a paper released by Nature. So, utilizing methanotrophic organisms, methane is converted into methanol naturally. Methanol which is an excellent soot free biofuel, is then used to power a triboelectrostatic separator.
The triboelectrostatic separator is the prototype. It consists of a few electrodes that comb through water in search of microplastics. These are tiny pieces of plastic that are electrostatically charged and are thus attracted to the electrodes of the separator. This radical finding by Sven Seidensticker of Centre for Applied Geoscience, Germany lead to the formation of the principle behind which this device functions. According to a study by Erik Van Sebille, a lecturer in oceanography and climate change in the Imperial College London, there are 15-51 trillion pieces of microplastic floating in the world's oceans! This proves that microplastics are a serious menace and measures should be taken to ensure that their extent is curbed.
However, there are a few drawbacks to this prototype. There a lot of charged particles in oceans. The triboelectrostatic separator does not differentiate between the charged particles so there is a reasonable possibility that microplastics are not the only pieces attracted to the electrodes. One more limitation of this contraption is that the cleaning of the collection chambers of the prototype heavily relies on human efficiency and labour.But as Dr. Alice Chen published in Harvard Business Review, it is time to rapidly adopt solutions that are working and improve upon them. We do not have time to dwell too long on why a potential solution may not work.In conclusion, there are a few drawbacks to this prototype, but it has immense potential to deliver results and help save the world. With a few enhancements and some refining, this prototype could not only reach the testing phase, but it could even be released into the Pacific in the near future.
An article by Abhijit Pamarty and Shika Rao
Prototype design by Abhijit Pamarty
Disclaimer: The pictures in the article are for illustration purpose only. Neither the writer nor PHoEnix has a claim over them.