This Floating Platform Could Filter the Plastic from our Polluted Oceans

  • 16 Jul 2014
  • by
  • Editor's Choice Misc
Courtesy of

“Plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.”

Cristian Ehrmantraut has developed a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean and absorbs plastic. Located 4 km from the coast of Easter Island, close to the center of the mega-vortex of plastic located in the South Pacific, the tetrahedral platform performs a kind of dialysis, allowing the natural environment to be recovered as well as energy and food to be produced.

Courtesy of Cristian Ehrmantraut

From the Architect. The idea for the project comes from a reality that, although few realize it, affects us all: the disposable culture and its principal actor — plastic

Since the 1960s, plastic has become a part of our daily lives, allowing us, among other things, to extend our lifespan. However, behind this remarkable reality lies an uncomfortable fact: plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.

Today there are six mega-vortexes of floating plastic: five between the continents and a sixth close to the Arctic, which is similar in size to Brazil (8.5 million square kilometers) and is 10 meters thick. It is in this environment that Halobates – a wild insect that feeds on zooplankton – thrives. The insect has experienced such exponential growth, in fact, that it’s endangering the zooplankton, essentially eliminating the base of the oceanic food chain.

Internal System

In the center of the mega-vortex of the South Pacific is Easter Island. Tons of micro-plastic trash arrive with every wave (Special Report – TVN – Plástico, el doble filo), making it a strategic place to start cleaning the global oceans. Easter Island, which hosts over 50,000 tourists annually from all over the world, could well become the world’s referent for a new ecology, which, whether we like it or not, will be focused on cleaning up this disastrous mess for the next 1000 years (see the documentary: Charting the garbage patches of the sea). This effort will enlist architecture, which will not only have to sustainably produce energy without polluting, but also actively clean the environment.

Thus, the project, which would be located 4 km off the coast of Easter island, is a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean, absorbs plastic, and protects the island from this ceaseless attack.

Platform

The design of the sub-structure is based on the application of the M.E.F. logic, which is similar to the Sierpinski fractal, but in three dimensions in order to achieve the overall coordination of the small, prefabricated elements. Its tetrahedral shape is simple, clean, stable, and static.

At the conceptual level, interesting things also occur, such as the verticality of the space in its natural state; just by being submerged, it’s possible to see the sky from below sea level. Aspects of emergence at a non-invasive, horizontal level were also considered, which results in a volume no bigger than a freighter, with the habitable zone on the surface and the recycling zone underwater. Ocean water is directed toward the recycling zone via gravity filters that separate the water from the plastic, which is later processed into plastic bricks, tiles, or anything that could be used to improve the quality of life of those in need. The habitable zone also has gardens to produce food for its 65 workers, without having to resort to supplies from the Island. The roof is made from photovoltaic cells.

Courtesy of Cristian Ehrmantraut

To capture the plastic and lure it to the platform, we developed a modular system of rolling barriers that use the waves to separate the living from the inert, all while producing energy and preserving the free passage of fish, boats, etc. Due to the the huge magnitude of ocean currents, a platform would be needed every several kilometers.

The ocean is dynamic, so it’s not necessary that the platforms move; eventually, all the water will pass through the same zone. A range of platforms operating systematically will cover hundreds of kilometers – a good start to fixing the disaster we’ve all collectively caused.

So let’s get to work.

Architect: Cristian Ehrmantraut
Advising Professor: Yves BesanÇon, University of 

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "This Floating Platform Could Filter the Plastic from our Polluted Oceans" 16 Jul 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=527863>
  • Patrick H

    Bonito proyecto. Creo que se necesita un prototipo de trabajo… Kickstarter!

  • Lelong

    Wow, I love this project. Hope it will be done soon.

  • Jakesaywow

    Promising ideas of utilizing architecture as media to solve an environmental disaster. Would be better if the architectural design roots from investigated studies of performance in terms of the relationships among ocean currents, form design and filtering efficiency, etc.

  • Ray

    It’s about time man kinds starts to correct environmental degradation
    Get it going please !

  • Nicholas Katsepontes

    love your site and look forward to seeing more posts!

  • Mark Roest

    Could you please do an expanded explanation of how the filtering systems (and did I see a station for hand-picking as well?) work, and what you plan to do with that insect that eats zooplankton? Do you have a method for separating micro-fine plastic bits from seawater, and from plankton and larger sea organisms?

  • Christen Cromer

    This is a great idea but to put it in action, like the other commenters I believe there are questions that need to be answered. How to separate the free swimming phytoplankton from the microscopic pieces of plastic. Who will fund these “plastic dialysis machines” which you suggest to be systematically built every couple of miles or so. Are there any tests that prove this idea will work? Etc.. I love the idea but I would like information on how it will be put into reality. If it seems concrete I would love to help spread the word and/or fundraise for the project.

  • Peter Kershaw

    I hope it happens soon but it’s all down to cost we all want it but we don’t want to pay for this brilliant idea.

  • Mark Roest

    Peter, the cost can be reduced with a different architecture and structural system — not a monument, but built for storm waves with a crest-to-crest distance of over 300 feet. I.e., sort out what you need done, and build a radically designed ship that can serve it in all sea conditions.

  • Shane Gee

    Hi, I would like to get involved in getting this project off the ground so if anyone can put me in contact with Christian I would appreciate it.

  • karla williamson

    Brilliant