SEACLEAN: Solar Enabled Autonomous Cleanup, Litter Extraction, And Neutralization

SEACLEAN: Solar Enabled Autonomous Cleanup, Litter Extraction, And Neutralization

An Advanced, Adaptive Concept for Oceanic Plastic Debris Collection Using Solar-Powered Autonomous Catamarans

1. Introduction

The escalating issue of plastic pollution in our oceans is a significant global crisis, demanding innovative, sustainable, and efficient solutions. Given the vastness of our oceans and the monumental scale of the problem, automation becomes not just an advantage, but a necessity. This concept paper introduces an advanced approach to ocean cleanup, harnessing the potential of solar power and autonomous technology. We propose the deployment of drone-like, solar-powered catamaran vessels designed to operate continuously. These autonomous machines, powered by renewable energy, are tailored to relentlessly pursue the goal of collecting and concentrating floating plastic debris, working tirelessly around the clock, thereby dramatically increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of our oceanic cleanup efforts.

2. Vessel Concept

The proposed SEACLEAN system comprises autonomous catamarans, specifically designed for both sizeable solar arrays and efficient energy utilization. Each catamaran, at approximately 120ft long by 60ft wide, can accommodate a solar array of 7,200 sqft (considering only flat surfaces). With bifacial panels rated for a performance of around 19 watts per sqft, each catamaran could potentially produce about 136,800 watts of power per day, under ideal conditions.

The energy breakdown is as follows:

  1. Each catamaran uses two 25 kW AC motors which typically run continuously at about 11 kW each. This accounts for 22 kW of continuous power draw.
  2. A portion of the solar power is allocated to other onboard equipment and systems.
  3. The remaining solar power is used to recharge a substantial battery bank comprised of Lithium Ferro Phosphate (LFP) batteries. These batteries serve to supplement the solar power, allowing the catamaran to continue its operations even during periods of low or no sunlight, such as at night or during overcast conditions.

The integrated power system allows the catamaran to continuously tow a U-shaped barrier, concentrating plastic waste into a central collection area. Integral to the concept is the system’s adaptability to weather conditions, possessing the capability to reduce power draw and conserve energy when necessary.

3. System Functionality

The proposed autonomous catamarans function in conjunction with a robust back-office operation that continuously monitors weather conditions, the marine environment, and the anticipated concentration of plastic waste. Using sophisticated algorithms and predictive modeling, the team identifies optimal routes for the catamarans, minimizing the impact of adverse weather and maximizing the collection of floating plastic debris.

Periodic course updates are transmitted to the catamarans via the Starlink satellite link. These instructions guide the catamarans towards areas of high plastic concentration and adjust their course as required to avoid storms and other potential hazards. This constant remote guidance ensures the catamarans are always working effectively and safely.

In addition to path planning, the back-office team schedules regular intervals for trash extraction, during which a manned vessel collects the concentrated plastic waste from the U-shaped barrier. The team also plans necessary maintenance schedules for the catamarans and their components, ensuring that each catamaran remains operational for the maximum possible time. The combination of autonomous technology with this human-guided management results in a system capable of operating continuously, maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the plastic cleanup operation.

4. Safety and Visibility

The catamarans are painted in high-visibility colors, with the barrier equipped with conspicuous flags for enhanced detection. They will be fitted with the required maritime lighting and signaling equipment. AI-controlled behaviors ensure that the catamarans steer clear of incoming marine traffic, maintaining safe distances and avoiding potential collisions.

5. Innovations

This concept integrates advanced technology and artificial intelligence to maximize efficiency and safety. The catamarans are equipped with Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) camera systems above and below the waterline, providing comprehensive surveillance of the surrounding marine environment and real-time monitoring of the plastic waste collection process.

The onboard AI is not only responsible for controlling and coordinating the catamaran’s movement but is also trained in maritime rules, regulations, and safety procedures. This ensures compliance with international maritime law while enabling efficient, autonomous operation.

A key innovation in this concept is the incorporation of marine conservation measures into the AI’s programming. In the event of potential wildlife entanglement or any interaction that might pose a risk to marine life, the AI is equipped to trigger an acoustic warning system, effectively deterring wildlife from the collection area.

Finally, the integration of Starlink satellite links enables real-time data communication, facilitating efficient management and response from a land-based control team. This feature allows for remote monitoring and quick response to any issues or changes in operating conditions, bolstering the system’s reliability and resilience.

6. Scalability

One of the primary advantages of the SEACLEAN system lies in its inherent scalability. The system can begin operations with a single pair of drone catamarans, allowing for comprehensive testing and optimization. As the processes are refined and proven effective, additional drones can be incrementally deployed to scale up operations.

Moreover, the design allows for flexibility in geographical deployment. Fleets of these SEACLEAN systems can be stationed and operated in diverse locations across the world, each working autonomously to collect concentrated plastic debris. This enables a global and simultaneous response to the pressing issue of oceanic plastic pollution, enhancing the impact of cleanup efforts and expediting the path towards cleaner and healthier oceans.

7. Next Steps

Further investigation and expert consultation are required to refine this concept, with emphasis on the power requirements for towing the barrier, optimizing the design of the catamarans and energy systems, and minimizing impact on marine ecosystems. Ensuring compliance with maritime regulations, developing emergency procedures, and consulting with experts in naval architecture, and marine operations are imperative at this stage.

8. Conclusion

This concept introduces a potentially transformative solution to tackle the plastic pollution problem in our oceans. With an emphasis on renewable energy, continuous operation, artificial intelligence, and wildlife safety, we present a robust blueprint for an advanced and efficient cleanup system.

Walt White

Founder and systems engineer, working to bring products to market that are best in class and make a positive impact on the marine environment. Our products help sailboats transition to battery powered electric propulsion. We design, manufacture and sell electric propulsion systems for sailboats.

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