New solar-electric boat cleans up Manila Bay

The environmental organisation One Earth – One Ocean has developed a solar-electric boat Circular Explorer.

New solar-electric boat cleans up Manila Bay

The vessel is just 12 meters long and 8 meters wide. At first glance, you can’t even be sure if it’s a boat or a floating dock. The unique mission of this unusual vessel is freeing seas and oceans from plastic waste. 

Circular Explorer, as the boat was christened, belongs to the environmental organisation One Earth – One Ocean and was designed at a boatyard in Lübeck, Germany. If you take a closer look at this boat, you realise it’s an exceptional kind of catamaran. At the bows, between the two hulls, a conveyor belt transports any plastic items, bits of fishing nets or wooden planks out of the water and into the boat, where the crew sort them into big bags. Any seaweed, crustaceans, mussels, or other sea creatures are returned to the water via a slide at the boat’s stern.

Gregor Papadopoulos, Torqeedo’s Senior Manager Retail Sales, says:

“This project is very special for us, and we are delighted to be playing our part in making the natural environment that bit cleaner.”

The Circular Explorer is powered by two 50 kW Deep Blue electric motors. The 24 solar panels installed on the 64 m2 roof are tiltable and follow the sun to generate the necessary power. The two Deep Blue 40 kWh lithium batteries on board the Circular Explorer are charged via shore power before the boat sets off. But if the sun’s shining, they return to harbour fully charged. At a speed of 4 knots, the solar power generated during the trip is almost identical to the amount consumed. In other words, the Circular Explorer is not only on a cleaning-up mission but is also clean herself.

This boat is the next major step in a project that began in 2008. Back then, Günther Bonin, a leisure yachtsman and IT manager, was sailing from Vancouver Island to San Diego when he spotted the crew of a containership throwing tons of waste into the Pacific – a sight he could not forget. Back home in Munich, he started researching marine pollution and was shocked to discover how little was being done to prevent it.

Bonin gave up his job in IT and founded One Earth – One Ocean to raise awareness of marine pollution, research the topic, and develop concrete ways of tackling the problem of plastic waste thrown overboard from ships or that flows into the sea from rivers from countries without properly functioning waste-disposal systems.

Plastic waste is a considerable threat to the marine ecosystem. Fish, birds, and other marine creatures devour the plastic, are injured by it, and die. Carpets of floating garbage prevent sunlight from reaching the depths and inhibit the growth of plankton and algae. A few years ago, research scientists from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation calculated that if pollution continues at this rate, the plastic in our seas and oceans could weigh more than all the fish living there by 2050.

Thirteen of the small litter collection boats are already in operation around the world, cleaning up the Nile in Egypt, Guanabara Bay in Brazil, and Sangkat River in Cambodia. One Earth – One Ocean is initially concentrating on rivers, estuaries, and coastlines in Africa, South America, and Asia, which are the heaviest contributors to ocean plastic pollution. But most of these litter collection boats have been powered by diesel motors. Cleaning up the environment and polluting it simultaneously is not ideal, so the organisation decided to switch to solar power.

After the launch in Hamburg and sea trials, the Circular Explorer was taken apart, packed into four containers and shipped to the Philippines. The vessel is currently operating five days a week cleaning up the massive bay off the country’s capital.