Manta: The Trash Gobbling Vessel

YachtWorld takes a look at the self-sufficient ocean cleanup vessel due to launch in 2024.

Trash gobbling Manta collecting-rubbish-from-the-ocean

Trash gobbling Manta collecting rubbish from the ocean. Image credit: Synthes3D for The SeaCleaners

A Mass Coastal Water Cleanup

The Manta will be a manned, French-built sailing vessel tasked to tackle a coastal water cleanup. The ship is a self-sufficient workboat designed to collect, treat and repurpose floating plastic debris along coasts and near large river deltas. Eventually, multiple versions of the Manta may be put to work off the coasts of South America, Asia and Africa. The project is a collaboration of 20 companies and five laboratories.

Behind the project is the founder and Chairman of The Sea Cleaners, Yvan Bourgnon. The Franco-Swiss ocean racer has spent his life on the world’s waterways, setting records and mostly sailing unassisted. “The Sea Cleaners is fighting on all fronts: awareness and prevention, the dissemination of scientific knowledge, the transition to a circular economy, and the collection of waste on land and at sea,” he says. He also describes the company’s three-pronged strategy, “We move ahead with three thoughts to guide our approach: taking action, finding solutions, and refusing resignation.”

A manta ray forms the company’s logo, which is fitting since the vessel’s renderings show what looks to be an enormous ray, scooping tons of trash into its cavernous mouth. If you weren’t familiar with its altruistic mission, you might be scared to death of it. It looks like something out of Mad Max.

The trash organizer in action

Image credit: Synthes3D for The SeaCleaners

Manta’s Ambitious Specification

The Manta isn’t small. With five decks, the catamaran is 185 feet long, 85 feet wide (150 feet with the outriggers deployed) and weighs in at 1,800 tons. Its twin rotating masts reach skyward to over 200 feet. It’s expected to be built from 95% recycled steel and 100% recycled aluminum.

Deck 2 shows a sports hall as well as significant space dedicated to the stowage of provisions. Deck 3 includes an infirmary, while Deck 4 has a kitchen, sleeping cabins, lifeboats and a wheelhouse. Deck 5 shows a sundeck, but don’t expect the crew to be tanning.

The boat is designed to stay at sea for extended periods and has the facilities to prove it. Image credit: Synthes3D for The SeaCleaners.

Propulsion System

The boat will operate on renewable energy 50-75% of the time and have a hybrid propulsion system that includes two electric motors plus two backup diesel engines. Wind and solar power will contribute heavily. Nearly 5,400 square feet of solar panels will cover the vessel. It will also have two wind turbines (100kW) and two hydro-generators (100kW), which have two in-water propellers that regenerate energy as the boat sails or powers along. Besides using its two giant sails to move about, the Manta is expected to generate its fuel by processing the plastic it collects as it motors at 2-3 knots. It’s touted as having a nearly unlimited range due to its sailing capability.

The Manta Mission

The mission is to collect and convert plastic waste into energy. The waste that isn’t turned to energy immediately is packaged into bags and stored on deck and in the hulls, waiting to be converted as quickly as possible. If the Manta gets bogged down with too much additional weight, its mobility and efficiency will diminish. Storage capacity is 50 tons plus two separate containers to hold recovered drift nets that are a major source of pollution and are also problematic for navigation.

The objective is to collect up to 10,000 tons of plastic annually. Pieces as small as 10 millimeters will be captured while floating (up to three feet deep) in the water column. There are also two lateral cranes aboard to winch up any large or heavy pieces, which will need to be brought ashore. Depending on debris density, the Manta should collect up to three tons of waste per hour and will be able to operate up to 20 hours per day, seven days per week.

A waste sorting unit will reside on deck where a team will manually separate objects that come aboard. Also on board will be waste conveyor belts and a waste-to-energy conversion unit that works via pyrolysis. The thermal decomposition of materials is carried out by applying high temperatures in an inert atmosphere. It involves a change of chemical composition of the waste without traditional burning, contributing to air pollution. (The pyrolysis process reportedly emits very low levels of CO2.)

Mobula collecting trash from rivers

Mobula’s in action- cleaning up waterways. Image credit: Synthes3D for The SeaCleaners.

Two small collection boats called ‘Mobulas’ will accompany the Manta to pick up microplastic waste in shallow and narrow waters where the Manta can’t reach. They will be the minions sent out by the mothership, but there are no details yet as to how the waste collected by the satellites will be transferred for processing aboard the Manta.

Preventing Microplastic Waste

Two particularly challenging problems have impeded ocean cleanup initiatives to date. First is the size of microplastics. These tiny bits are the equivalent of plastic dust that can’t be caught in a net. Secondly, capturing larger plastic waste should be done well before it reaches coastal and mid-oceanic waters, where it decomposes into microplastics. The challenge there is creating river capture systems that can deploy cost-effectively and across borders. Sadly, environmental concerns haven’t been a lightning rod for unified multinational efforts. Therefore, much of the cleanup needs to happen later in the game, where it becomes harder, more expensive and often, less effective. Yes, it has been difficult, but it’s also inconceivable that while the two issues above are pondered and addressed, a solution hasn’t been provided. This is why deploying vessels like the Manta as soon as possible is critical.

Research Facilities Onboard

Besides the actual process of cleaning up, the Manta’s charter includes environmental research, conservation education and awareness of the ecological disaster faced by the oceans. To facilitate the above, 6-10 scientists can be accommodated simultaneously and have access to two research laboratories, a study room and an analysis room. Additionally, there will be a 650-square foot conference room that can hold up to 80 journalists or members of the public. In port, the Manta will host educational conferences and serve as a leading example of ‘green and smart’ shipping.

Every minute, 17 tons of plastic waste pour into our oceans,” says Bourgnon. “It is essential to do our share, to highlight even the most modest of victories and, in doing so, to awaken consciences. This is the goal of the Manta.”

A James Bond villain could have designed the Manta. You may be convinced that it will scoop up and process anything in its path from the waterline, including you in a dinghy. However, despite its aggressive appearance, the Manta is a real-world solution designed to address and combat a critical and ever-closer ecological catastrophe. The good news is that in three years, it won’t be just vaporware. May it feed well.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.

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