BY: DUSTIN BATTY
By now, most people are aware that we humans have been polluting the oceans with literally tons of plastic waste, and that this waste has had a devastating effect on the animals that call it home. Fuelled by a desire to rid the oceans of plastic, an unlikely duo teamed up and devised an innovative solution: convert the plastic into usable diesel fuel.
James Holm is a sailboat captain who has been sailing for 40 years, according to a Phys.org article. Over the years, “he has watched the sea and coastline become more and more polluted.” He described the moment when he decided to help fix the problem at the American Chemical Society (ACS)’s annual meeting on April 3rd: Back in 2008, Holm and his crew took shelter from a hurricane on a small island off the coast of Panama. He says he was “stunned by the amount of plastic covering the beach” so, while they were waiting for the seas to calm, Holm and his crew began “collecting [the] trash that had washed up on [the] beach—wrappers, containers, syringes with needles still on them.”
“Rather than opening my eyes, it more brought tears to my eyes,” Holm told the ACS. “The people that live there don’t have plastic packaging. They don’t have Oreos and potato chips. That plastic was from me—us—civilization as we know it. And I felt a tinge of responsibility for having done that and thought perhaps I’m in a position to do something about it.”
That year, Holm founded Clean Oceans International (COI), an organization whose prime objective is to rid the ocean of plastic waste. According to the organization’s website, one of its main focuses has been the development of Plastic to Fuel (PTF) technology. Holm is confident that this will help bring people together to end pollution. His reasoning is explained on the COI website: The pollution of the ocean “required an international demographic a generation to create,” it says, “and we should expect that it would require a similar global scope and timescale to manage. The only force strong enough to motivate a multinational generation to do something collectively is profit.”
James Holm spoke about his Clean Oceans Project in 2012. He describes a smaller PTF converter that was available at the time.
Holm expects the PTF conversion process to be profitable enough that it will motivate this generation to act. To that end, he has teamed up with organic chemist Swaminathan Ramesh, the CEO of EcoFuel Technologies, who has developed a small-scale PTF converter that is perfect for use in communities or even on a boat. The mobile converter is able to turn anywhere from 200 to 10,000 pounds of plastic into usable diesel fuel in a 10 hour day, which is the perfect range for a plastic-hunting boat or a small community recycling centre.
Holm sees a bright future for this technology combined with the motivation of profit. Not only will we clean up the oceans with it, “We can even eliminate plastic waste before it gets to the oceans by creating value for it locally on a global basis.”
If Holm and Ramesh can pull this off and manage to motivate people around the world to help stop pollution, then maybe there’s still hope for the world.