Can you design clean oceans on the drawing board?

It all started with a master thesis which architect Marcella Hansch had to submit to complete her studies at the RWTH Aachen university. But the end of her studies also marked the beginning of a project aimed at freeing our oceans from plastic debris.

Marcella, you are an architect: how did a project for clean oceans become your degree thesis?

It was rather the other way around: my degree thesis turned into a project for clean oceans. While diving, I saw the problem literally in front of my nose and decided to get engaged in this topic. Just like any architect would do, I started reading books from all sorts of disciplines. I read mechanical engineering scrips, visited recycling facilities, corresponded with NASA, read books about the origins of oceans, studied waste water treatment plants - and eventually developed the "Pacific Garbage Screening" project.

While diving, I saw the problem literally in front of my nose

Marcella Hansch

Pacific Garbage Screening

Pacific Garbage Screening (PGS) offers an innovative solution for clean oceans. It is based on a revolutionary idea: a floating platform whose special design allows removing even the smallest microplastic particles from the water by filtration. The approach works without nets - using passive sedimentation. This method is energy-efficient and does not pose a risk to marine life.

What has happened since the planning stage and where are you now?

It all started with a few keynote speeches at conferences that were taken up by the media. Public interest in the idea grew. Meanwhile, we are a non-profit association and work on implementing the idea. The first goal is to create prototypes for rivers and river deltas to remove the plastic from the water before it actually enters the oceans. In addition, we are actively engaged in the field of environmental education to draw attention to the problem and deal with it at its roots, i.e. consumption. Our engaged team consists of 40 members. From students to geographers and PR experts all the way to a graduate biologist we have everything "on board". In addition, we have more than 800 sponsoring members and are meanwhile already engaged on a global scale - all members working on a voluntary basis.

When and where will the first platform start its service?

The plan is to deploy the first prototypes 5 years from now. To this end, we urgently need capacities and funding to be able to achieve the transition from theory to practice.

 

Do you already have any idea what is to happen with the garbage after it has been removed from the sea?

My first idea was plastic waste gasification. The process yields a synthetic gas containing mainly CO2 and hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used as an energy carrier and CO2 as food for algae cultures. Their biomass could in turn be used as biodegradable algae plastics. Presently, our "Team Recycling" is examining the viability of this process and of other alternative approaches. We set great store by sustainable recycling. Actually, plastics are a valuable raw material that is based on the finite resource petroleum. Therefore, from our point of view, incineration is not an option at all.

Marcella Hansch

Marcella Hansch is an architect and founder of the association Pacific Garbage Screening e.V. Following her studies in Florence, Italy and Aachen, Germany, Marcella worked as an architect for CROSS Architecture in Aachen. In parallel to her job she also manages the project Pacific Garbage Screening (PGS). Marcella and her team are currently busy implementing this technology and at the same time drawing attention to the pollution of the seas. For her commitment and the concept of Pacific Garbage Screening Marcella was already recognized with the Edition F Award 2017, the Future Impact Maker Award, and the German Federal Ecodesign Award in the category Young Talent.