16 May 2024

It’s a Scoop water cleanup

In focus: ✔ River Scooper ✔ Plastic cleanup ✔ Clewat ✔ Sustainability

Damen and Clewat collaborate in water cleanup with innovative vessel solution

There are currently over 150 million tons of plastic in our seas. You read that right. It’s a lot of plastic, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it gets worse. That amount is rising by 10 million tons each year. Let’s put that into perspective. If this continues at the current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Reversing the trend

This information is provided by Finland-based Clewat on the company’s website. Clewat – whose name is a portmanteau of clean and water – is aiming to make sure that this doesn’t continue at the present rate.

The company was founded in 2018 by Johannes Myllykoski. He’d seen the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and was inspired to take action.

Over the next few years, Johannes invested thousands of hours of his time developing a solution that would be able to collect oil properly – the River Scooper. With that done, the thought occurred to him; if the device can collect oil from the water, what’s to prevent it harvesting invasive plant species – or plastic?

Marko Kärkkäinen

Thinking global, acting local

Having rounded up a number of investors, Clewat got to work and soon attracted the attention of Chairman Marko Kärkkäinen.

“I saw the company on LinkedIn and realised I would be able to help them. I’ve worked for over 20 years in waste management, all over the world and, during that time, I’ve developed a strong network.”

That network, Marko explains, is crucial to Clewat’s success. The challenge posed by waste in the water is a global one. It therefore requires action to take place internationally, and frequently in countries where there is little infrastructure.

“We need to work together with local people and local governments. They can help us to overcome the cultural barriers we may face and ensure that the right infrastructure is in place locally. Governments can also play a valuable role in raising awareness of what we are trying to do.”

The Solution

Also vital for the company’s success is Johannes’ creation – the Clean Sweeper. Clewat is currently operating three such vessels – one in the Philippines, one in Finland and one in Florida.

A pilot project in the Philippines, during which Clewat has collected over 2 million kilos of plastic waste since August 2022, makes it clear that the solution is effective, and already demand is growing. The company was looking for a way to grow its operation. There was a hurdle, however.

“We build the vessels ourselves, in Finland,” states Marko of this significant achievement. “This has worked fine up to now, but we needed a way to scale-up, rapidly.”

Scaling up

Thankfully, help was at hand. Both Clewat and Damen are participants in the Rotterdam-based PortXL initiative. This accelerator programme brings together start-ups, scale-ups, corporate parties and mentors, with the aim of fostering a spirit of innovation in the global maritime industry.

“We know there is potential for this to grow. There are areas with significant problems with invasive plant species and there is 2 billion euros worth of funding available for plastic cleanup in the seas. We have a solution that we know is effective. Now, with Damen, we have the opportunity we needed to scale up.”

Big ambitions

This capacity to produce more vessels is essential for the future success of Clewat; the company has considerable ambitions.

“Our target is to operate hundreds of these vessels, all over the world, within the next few years.”

Damen Financial Services is supporting Clewat in this vision by investing in the design and construction of the new standardised vessel, the River Scooper. Damen Financial Services will act as the owner of these assets, which are then leased for the operations.

Research contribution

The companies also collaborate with knowledge institutes, thereby contributing to research initiatives. A good example of this is their joint visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2022. Led by Nicaraguan Ambassador Ricardo Alvaro, Clewat and Damen met with the Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor Ali Jadbabaie to discuss possibility of collaboration in addressing plastic marine waste in the Gulf of Honduras, Malawi and the Philippines.

Professor Ali Jadbabaie: “Given the expertise of MIT Faculty on various aspects of marine waste valorisation, and the importance of the plastic waste problem, as well as the novel technologies developed by Clewat and Damen, my colleagues and I very much look forward to opportunities for improved research collaboration in the future.”

Getting into the water

For now, though, the aim is clear; to get the vessels into the water and start saving the seas, lakes and rivers from further plant and plastic pollution. Damen is already working towards this ambition. The first Damen-built River Scooper, designed by Damen Green Solutions and based on Clewat’s design, is under construction in Gorinchem and is scheduled for delivery end 2023. Following tests, the vessel will be deployed in a region such as the Philippines for its important work.

The River Scooper

The River Scooper is a straightforward solution. It is a catamaran with a scoop that collects waste as the vessel moves along. The vessel features a vacuum and filter system that removes the waste and then washes the water. The system can collect macro litter and micro plastics as small as 5mm and covers up to 200 m3/h. With small adjustments to the scoop, the vessel can also collect invasive plants.

The vessel can fit inside a single container for easy transport anywhere in the world, by truck, train or ship.

Fully recyclable

The sustainable profile of the River Scooper is boosted by the material of which it is constructed – fully recyclable HDPE. This holds significant potential, as Marko explains.

“In the future, we may be able to build our vessels out of the plastics that we harvest from the water.”

The plant material that the company is harvesting is already frequently being put to good use, converted into fertiliser, animal feed or biofuels.

Furthermore, there are opportunities to evolve the vessel’s design to greater levels of sustainability. Currently, the River Scooper is a hybrid diesel-electric design. In the future, however, there is scope to develop a fully electric version, or one that sails on alternative, cleaner fuels.

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