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Exploring uncharted territory

As The Ocean Cleanup continues to prepare for the largest cleanup in history, the collaboration is putting our expertise and adaptability to the test.

It’s an exciting project that could help solve the growing problem of plastic in our ocean – and it will take a great deal of collaboration to pull it off.

“Our knowledge of fouling control and coatings means we can identify where coatings might be of benefit to The Ocean Cleanup, which coatings would be most appropriate and then decide how to test,” says Joanne Grant, Technologist in Fouling Control Team at AkzoNobel.

It’s an ongoing, continuous and efficient technical collaboration. “We operate with a similar ‘start-up’ mentality as our partners at The Ocean Cleanup,” says Joanne. “They continuously learn from field trials and optimize and adapt their equipment – we optimize our coating systems to reflect changing materials and requirements.”

Protecting the system

The majority of our testing so far has focused on application of coatings to the skirt section of The Ocean Cleanup, which hangs vertically in the water to collect the plastic.

Samples of the geotextile material have been coated with our award-winning Intersleek antifouling coating from our extensive International® product range and immersed alongside uncoated samples. Those tests indicate that the uncoated material has accumulated a significant amount of extra fouling. That puts strain on the system, so this information is very valuable for the team.

Uncharted territory

Joanne says the testing has come with a unique set of challenges. “From a technical perspective, the greatest challenge is that the materials used by The Ocean Cleanup are very different from the substrates we are familiar with. The environment the system will be immersed in is also unfamiliar.

“A marine vessel is typically a solid structure that moves through the water at relatively high speeds, whereas The Ocean Cleanup system consists of a flexible ‘geotextile’ skirt that will be subjected to strong storms and currents in the Pacific Ocean. The combination of all of these factors means we have to be creative and adapt our usual test methods.”

Adapting to the new prototype

Last year, The Ocean Cleanup deployed System 001, named “Wilson”, their first prototype to be tested in the Pacific garbage patch. They have now worked on modifications to the design, so our in-house testing is focused on any new materials that may come into use, as well as gathering long-term data on the current test pieces. The investigative journey continues!