The project is the brainchild of Yvan Bourgnon, a French-Swiss skipper and explorer who decided to take on a new challenge after discovering seas and oceans defaced by plastic waste during a round-the-world voyage between 2013 and 2015 in which he helped to clean up the oceans.
Subsequently, he created the Seacleaners association in order to raise public awareness of this issue and develop an innovative technological solution for collecting plastic waste at sea.
Collecting, treating and recycling on board the ship
That solution is the Manta, a giant catamaran, the final version of which was unveiled at the beginning of the year, after three years of R&D carried out in collaboration with some twenty industrial and technical partners and five research laboratories. The future vessel will have a collection capacity of 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes per year and will primarily target areas with high concentrations of pollution in Asia, Africa and South America. To this end, its priority navigation areas will be rivers, the mouths of large rivers, estuaries and along the coast. The big innovation is that rather than collecting the waste and bringing it back to land, it will be recycled directly on the ship.
The Manta is expected to be 56.5m long, 26m wide and equipped with four complementary collection systems. Conveyor belts will transport the collected waste onto the ship, where it will be manually sorted on board the catamaran. Three nets at the stern will collect the surface waste whilst two cranes are planned to extract the largest debris. Finally, two small boats on the back of the giant catamaran will be used to collect waste accumulated in rivers, estuaries and calm waters, "in narrower, shallower and less accessible areas where manoeuvrability is limited".
Thanks to its onboard factory, the future giant catamaran will be the only workboat capable of handling 100% of the plastic waste collected at sea. The waste will be sorted manually before being treated and recycled using a pyrolysis energy conversion unit. This unit will operate 24 hours a day and will convert all collected waste into energy.
An environmentally friendly ship running on renewable energy
The Manta will be powered by the converted waste and should be 75% self-sufficient. It will also be equipped with a hybrid propulsion system comprising 1,500 m² of sails on one side and electric motors on the other. These motors will be powered by solar panels, wind turbines and equipment capable of producing hydrogen through water electrolysis. Wind and solar power will replace diesel engines to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum.
A scientific and educational showcase
A team of eight to ten scientists will be on board the ship 250 days a year. It will have the necessary oceanographic equipment to carry out waste geolocation, quantification and characterisation missions. Valuable data for research will then be shared with polluting countries and the scientific community.
Finally, the Manta will also be used to raise awareness among local populations, functioning as a sort of ambassador ship. People will be able to come on board, exchange ideas, participate in data collection efforts and more. Moreover, the ship will feature a 150-seat conference room. As Yvan Bourgnon says: “It will be spectacular, but in the service of efficiency we must move away from theory and get our hands dirty.”