The Great Bubble Barrier: How air bubbles prevent plastic from draining into the sea

'@ The Great Bubble Barrier
'@ The Great Bubble Barrier

Plastic junk in the ocean is one of the most devastating issues for the environment. According to WWF, between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. Dutch startup The Great Bubble Barrier came up with an innovative solution to deal with the piles of waste in the future.

The team developed a “bubble barrier” that collects and removes plastics from waterways. The “wall” should keep plastic waste from the open sea and push it to the surface, making it easier to collect. So far, this is one of the most energy-efficient and safe configurations for cleaning up plastic in the water.

Air compressor stops waste

The bubble barrier is an air compressor that shoots air through a perforated tube. The first bubble barrier has been built diagonally across the bottom of the Westerdok Canal in Amsterdam. According to Philip Ehrhorn, co-founder of the project, it is possible to capture around 86% of the waste and move it into a collection basket. This makes it easy to dispose of the garbage.

Ehrhorn comes from Germany and founded The Great Bubble Barrier in 2016 together with a team of Dutch women – Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Studer, and Francis Zoet. They were all inspired by the fact that air bubbles can move objects in the water. The project was still in the pilot phase until 2019. In November 2019, the young company brought their idea to life with the support of the city of Amsterdam.

@ The Great Bubble Barrier
@ The Great Bubble Barrier
According to the founders, the construction of the facility took less than five hours. To avoid noise, the air compressor is 50 m away from the barrier and is closed in a container. The compressor is powered by renewable energy from the city of Amsterdam. There is a second bubble barrier in Wervershoof in the north of the Netherlands.

Barrier also catches small objects

According to Ehrhorn, the bubble barrier can hold up larger objects such as old TVs or even Christmas trees. Besides that, small objects with a diameter of only one millimeter also easily get caught in it. Marine animals may have slight difficulties with the barrier, but with time they adapt and overcome the obstacles. An independent group is expected to soon study the movement of fish around the barrier.
In the future, The Great Bubble Barrier plans to offer the barriers to other cities, including in Portugal, and Indonesia. The startup adjusts the price to the location and the course of the river. The young company wants to expand and improve conditions worldwide, especially in Asia. Eight out of ten of the world’s most polluted rivers would be there. According to the startup, the team is currently negotiating the first contracts there.
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