(Image credit: Flickr)


It's estimated there are about 8-million tons of plastic littering the world's oceans, and that number continues to grow. While some plastics remain floating once they enter the water, others get thrashed around and break into tiny pieces known as microplastics, which are smaller than 5mm and can sink to the bottom and wreak havoc on oceanic ecosystems. Some of those microplastics come from hand soap, which could cause hermit crabs to become extinct if nothing is done to curb their disposal.


Researchers at the England University of Hull found that some of those microplastics contain an additive known as oleamide, which is known to be a pheromone or stimulant for certain species of marine life, including shrimp and hermit crabs. The chemical increases the crab's respiration rates, which can be detrimental if it's continuous, and it can also be mistaken for food by the tiny scavengers. Those hermit crabs could travel large distances with the promise of a meal, only to find plastic. A significant disruption to breeding and feeding habits could spell the end for hermit crabs and other marine life. Still, there may be a solution to cleaning microplastics that involves magnets.


Fionn Ferreira from the south of Ireland became concerned about the ocean after seeing how much plastic waste washed up on shore and began looking for a solution to clean up much of the material, specifically microplastics. He noticed that the tiny plastic particles were attracted to oil, which gave him the idea of using ferrofluid to clean the ocean. Ferrofluid combines vegetable oil and magnetized iron oxide powder, which can change its shape depending on the location and intensity of magnetic fields.


Fionn found that during testing, ferrofluid attracted the small plastic particles, which could then be removed by using magnets. Over the course of 5,000 tests, the ferrofluid managed to remove 87% to 93% of plastics from the water despite their origin (hand soap, tires, bottles, etc.). Fionn is now looking to design a method of employing ferrofluid that could act like a net attached to drainage pipes, catching the plastics before they enter the water.


MingYang Smart Energy has unveiled its MySE 16.0-242 wind turbine that features a 242-meter diameter rotor and 118-meter-long blades. (Image credit: MingYang)


On the renewable energy end, China's MingYang Smart Energy has unveiled the world's largest offshore wind turbine with its 16-megawatt MySE 16.0-242, which features a 242-meter diameter rotor 118-meter-long blades, which can sweep a 46,000-sq-m (495,140-sq-ft) area bigger than six soccer fields. A single MySE 16.0-242 can provide power to 20,000 homes over a 25-year lifespan, generating 80 GWh of electricity. The wind turbine can be anchored to the seabed or attached to floating rigs. MingYang expects the first prototype in the series to be completed in 2022 and will be in operational service by 2023. Commercial availability is also expected to begin by 2024.


If a recent article from The Guardian rings true, offshore wind turbines could lead to vast tracts of ocean dedicated to wind energy if it can mitigate cost, turbine design, and commercial fishing. Most offshore wind farms are situated in shallow waters (165-feet or less) and are usually anchored to the seabed or attached to floating buoys. Governments and renewable energy companies are now looking at ways to take advantage of the stronger winds generated over deeper parts of the ocean.


In terms of cost, placing wind farms further out in the ocean would double the funds needed compared to near-shore fixed-wind stations, but those costs are expected to be reduced as technology advances and supply chains improve. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that floating turbine projects could reach parity with their land-based counterparts by 2030, making them more affordable. Then there are the design costs, as most designs still require being anchored to the seafloor, including being attached to buoys, semisubmersible platforms, and tension-leg structures.


Of course, the fishing industry has its concerns, including interference with equipment and obstructing fishing areas, which would impact the livelihood of their workers. Scientists from the NREL have found that even the largest wind farms would only take up only minute portions of the ocean and would be carefully sited so as not to interfere with commercial fishing or aquatic breeding grounds. Even with increased talks with the fishing industry and guarantees of minimal interference, placing wind farms in deep waters is more of a hopeful outlook than a glimmer of reality. The prospect of reduced pollution, increased jobs, and enacting laws that benefit both industries could help satisfy all parties; only time will tell.


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