Boyan Slats Ocean Cleanup does a good job, but it’s not a real business case

Sharks often attack their prey from below. Richard Hardiman’s WasteShark devours waste floating on the surface of the water. Where grabbing a terrace at the ‘Waterfront’ in Cape Town can all lead to.

Richard Hardiman “didn’t feel like talking about Britney Spears anymore.” Photo: Friso Keuris for Het Financieele Dagblad
As a brand new student at the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town, Richard Hardiman is sitting in the historic harbor on a terrace on the ‘Waterfront’ drinking a cup of coffee. Suddenly he sees a boat with two young men at sea. One of them steers the boat, the other tries to fish something out of the sea with a swimming pool net. The duo appears to be looking for floating plastic waste. That is not so easy with the landing net. While drinking coffee, Hardiman muses: nice that they do it, but how can it be more efficient?

His children watched the animation film Wall-E incessantly at the time , about a lone robot whose task is to clean up waste on a highly polluted earth that has since been abandoned by humans in the year 2805. Why not a Wall-E for water, Hardiman thought. . He took a napkin from the table and began to sketch. The first outlines of the autonomous WasteShark aquadrone appeared on the thin paper.

Richard Hardiman (47) is the son of a British couple – an engineer and an artist – who moved to South Africa from England. That sketch kept him busy for at least two years. By the end of his studies in 2015, he was still toying with the idea. “My mother then said that if I didn’t do it, someone else would pick it up.”

That made the difference. Hardiman quit his job as a radio presenter and journalist (“I’ve had enough of talking about Britney Spears too”), withdrew all his savings and left for Rotterdam.

From waste to algae
There he started in 2016 with a partner RanMarine, a high-tech company that develops aquadrones to collect waste on the water. WasteSharks – after the wide-mouthed whale shark – are now floating around the world, from Australia and India to Denmark and the United Kingdom. In Florida, the drone keeps all the lakes of Disneyland Orlando clean. “With all those snakes there, it’s less convenient to do it with a net,” says the CEO.

From the plastic waste that started his idea, the emphasis has increasingly shifted to algae. In July of this year, for example, a project started in Helsinki in which RanMarine uses aquadrones against blue-green algae in inland waters. The collected blue-green algae is then processed into cosmetics and animal feed.

There is more on the agenda. A project will start this month in the port of Rotterdam with a docking station for five WasteSharks. The self-propelled drones, equipped with advanced lidar technology, can do their job and recharge themselves at the station. If all goes well, no one is involved. The European Innovation Council EIC has reserved €1.5 million for it.

RanMarine, named after the goddess of the sea Ran in Norse myths, now employs twenty people. Technicians from TU Twente work here and a professor of offshore technology from TU Delft has been appointed as an advisor for the business side.

Other initiatives
There are other initiatives against ocean pollution, such as The Ocean Cleanup by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat. What can Hardiman’s relatively small drones add? ‘The Ocean Cleanup is doing a good job’, says the entrepreneur. ‘But it’s not a real business case. Too few parties think it is important enough to invest in it.’

He then hurries to explain that the WasteSharks operate on inland waterways and ports and are so modest in size for a reason. ‘They should also be able to get into the small corners of canals, for example, if they detect pollution there with their cameras.’

A whole new line of sharks is on the program. Also a larger version, the MegaShark. And there must be an OilShark to gobble up leaked oil. All this requires new investments. ‘We want a listing in the United States and are preparing it now.’

Written by Renol Vestergaard

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