ABB Ability™ solution used to help address growing problem of plastics in the world’s oceans

A huge accumulation of plastic now floats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California. The largest of five offshore plastic accumulation zones, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is now estimated to be twice the size of Texas and three times the size of France.

This has created an urgent environmental challenge that ABB technology is now being used to help solve.

The environmental research yacht Fantastiko, which is operated by the Dutch foundation By the Ocean we Unite (BTOWU), is using advanced solutions supplied by ABB to study, measure and report on this rising concentration of plastic in the ocean. The charitable organization’s mission is to highlight the damage done by the millions of tons of plastic that end up in the world’s oceans every year.

The foundation estimates that each year, some eight billion kilograms of plastic end up in the oceans. That represents 23,000 kilograms (50,700 pounds) of new plastic waste per minute. Once dumped into the ocean, it immediately begins to damage the environment and enter the food chain. More than 200 species of marine life have been documented ingesting plastic. “It is really sad to see how much plastic we have put in the oceans,” says Dr. Nanne van Hoytema, a scientific research coordinator at BTOWU.

To help combat this issue, the foundation’s vessel uses the ABB Ability™ Marine Advisory System – OCTOPUS – to plan optimal routes that maximize its fuel efficiency and operational impact. The software is designed to help crew plan routes, input data from findings, and monitor weather conditions on research voyages in waters off Rotterdam, the Netherlands; France; Belgium; Denmark; the South of England; and the Channel Islands. At the same time, the ABB Ability™ Marine Fleet Portal helps the foundation gather and analyze real-time data from the Fantastiko’s onboard sensors.

This data include not only the extent and characteristics of the plastic waste encountered by the vessel, but also information about the voyage and weather conditions along the vessel’s route. Thanks to ABB Ability™ Marine Fleet Portal, the Fantastiko’s research and key findings can be directly accessed by the public through the foundation’s website. BTOWU's audience is able to follow the status of the sailing expeditions through the website, which presents information relating to the types of plastic particles that are being found.

Photo: Jedimentat44, Creative Commons by 2.0
Photo: Jedimentat44, Creative Commons by 2.0

The accumulation of ocean plastic is rapidly being recognized as a major challenge that needs to be addressed. The European Parliament has already voted for a complete ban on so-called single-use plastics, including plastic cutlery, plates, cotton swabs and straws. But more can and must be done, and mobilizing public opinion is of critical importance.

“The key aspect of our research expeditions is to present our findings to as many people as possible,” says Dr. van Hoytema. “ABB Ability allows us to share our research with our social media audiences. By giving people at home a direct link to us at sea, we can rapidly and effectively make our research a part of people's daily lives.”

“ABB is committed to technologies that are compatible with sustainability,” says Mikko Lepistö, Senior Vice President of Digital Solutions at ABB Marine & Ports. “We are also delighted that our marine software is being used directly in the battle to protect the marine environment.” 

More environmental expeditions using ABB technology are in the works.


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