Interviews with Innovators – WasteShark: Continuously working to improve water quality
In the United States, South Korea, South Africa, Australia and various places in Europe, the innovative cleaning robot WasteShark is already being used to fish floating debris out of the water. Since last week, one has also been ‘swimming’ through the canals of Zaanstad , the first in the Netherlands. And that is striking, because RanMarine, the company behind the WasteShark, is located in Rotterdam. We interviewed the creator and CEO Richard Hardiman and the Dutch consultant Peter Kwakernaak about this smart cleaning robot and the plans that lie ahead.
The idea for the WasteShark came to South African born and raised Hardiman in 2009 over a cup of coffee in Cape Town. “I had some spare time during my studies and went to get a cup of coffee at the V&A Waterfront. As I sat there I saw two men fishing garbage out of the waters of the harbour with a long net. They did it that way every day. I come from a family of engineers and immediately thought: ‘Surely there must be more efficient ways?’. My thoughts ran wild and I soon had the first ideas for a robot that fished up the litter in my head. I had no destination for it at the time, but the idea stuck in my head for a few years anyway. Eventually someone said to me: ‘if you don’t do anything with it, someone else will’.”
That was about the same time Boyan Slat drew attention to his ‘Ocean Cleanup’ and the problem of plastic in the oceans. This made it clear to Hardiman that there was a real need for cleaner water solutions to prevent microplastics from reaching the oceans. He decided to further develop his idea and build a prototype. “Once that was done, I thought it was time to start working with people who can do this much better than me,” says Hardiman with a laugh. In 2016, for example, he came into contact with the Port XL Accelerator program in Rotterdam. After a selection procedure, the innovation was further developed at the RDM site in Rotterdam with the help of experts and investors.
About three years ago, RanMarine went on its own two feet. It was decided to no longer work with external consultants, but to employ the developers in order to create more connection with the product. The company now employs about 25 people and is working on new models. An office in the United States (Florida) has also recently been opened.
On its own website, RanMarine describes the WasteShark as an ‘Autonomous Surface Vessel’ or ASV for short. The name refers to the whale shark -or Whale Shark-, which swims slowly on the surface water and eats plankton there. The WasteShark does the same thing, but with floating litter. It is a kind of catamaran with a basket between the floats in which the junk is collected. The hull is powered by two electric motors. There are two versions, a remote-controlled one and a ‘smarter’ one that can be programmed to keep an area clean without bumping into anything. A total of about 6 hours can be sailed, during which a maximum of 350 kilograms of waste can be ‘caught’. The WasteShark itself has a weight of 72 kilos and is small enough to be transported in a car.
“The idea has always been to catch ‘fresh plastic’ while it still floats on the surface. Then it is still quite easy to fish out of the water. Before it breaks into pieces or can become microplastic. It becomes more difficult if it disappears under water or is carried by the current to the sea.” says Hardiman. “We found out that one of the reasons there was so little waste disposal was because it was just a hassle. For example, if you need a boat to reach certain places. So we had to make that easier and we succeeded with the WasteShark.”
The WasteSharks don’t just fish waste out of the water. Especially in the United States, they are also used to remove excessive algae growth and thus contribute to better water quality. In addition, the WasteSharks can also collect data about water quality, such as acidity and temperature. Those interested can find a demonstration video of the WasteShark on YouTube .
There are now about 70 WasteSharks in operation worldwide, including at major parties such as Disney, the United Nations, Houston Harbor and the World Wildlife Fund. They are used in various places, such as amusement parks, (marina) harbours and nature reserves. Hardiman adds: “I have always had the feeling that we are really a Dutch company. But we just don’t have many customers here. That is the goal for the coming years, to have more WasteSharks swimming around in our own country”.
That is also one of the reasons that Peter Kwakernaak is connected. The two have a connection via South Africa, where Kwakernaak had a guesthouse for a while . Back in the Netherlands, the native Hagenaar had the desire to undertake more sustainable activities. “So I started helping Richard to further expand his network in the Netherlands. There was something very beautiful in Rotterdam, it cannot be that a pearl of Dutch green tech is Rotterdam’s best kept secret.” says Kwakernaak.
Expand in the Netherlands
Both do not see the fact that the roll-out in the Netherlands is not yet automatic as something negative. Hardiman: “The adoption of ‘ new-tech’ always takes time, especially in a more traditional sector such as the maritime sector. In other countries, such as the US, this is faster. I don’t see that as a bad thing, it ensures that everything here in the Netherlands remains nice and stable. So we have to let our products prove themselves, so that they will also be bought here. Zaanstad is a first example of this, we receive good feedback and data that we can also use for other cities. It is also not a product that you are immediately convinced of after reading the brochure, you have to see it for yourself. We will be organizing many demonstrations in the coming months, visiting trade fairs and this is how the WasteShark will have to prove itself.”
“Fortunately, we are already seeing that happen,” Kwakernaak adds. “A number of users have now opted to expand the ‘fleet’ and purchase more WasteSharks from RanMarine. That is of course a good sign. Together with an expansion of our portfolio, I see significant growth in the coming period.”
Kwakernaak sees many opportunities for what they call ‘sponsorships’ for a further expansion of the fleet. “You could also use the WaterShark as a floating advertising column for your branding , while cleaning the water in the meantime. For large brands that want to make a sustainable contribution, it becomes so attractive to really do something and at the same time bring their brand to the attention in a positive way. Or, for example, in combination with a water festival such as Amsterdam Pride, where the water is unintentionally polluted.”
When asked about the dream scenario for the future, Hardiman is clear: “My dream is that we can deploy zero-emission, battery-powered robots all over the world to contribute to clean water. In addition to fishing for waste, we can also take measurements and thus monitor the quality of the water. I dream that we will soon have thousands of them sailing around the world, collecting data. I hope the WasteSharks become as normal as the robot vacuum cleaners or robot lawnmowers. So that we are constantly working on improving water quality all over the world. At the same time, I am aware that this is only part of the solution. Fortunately, a lot is already being done to reduce the use of plastic and prevent pollution.
Kwakernaak adds: “We are currently working on a larger robot, the MegaShark. It is intended to be used in somewhat rougher water, possibly also at sea. We think that they can be put to good use there, for example for cleaning and taking measurements around wind farms. If you were to send a boat there now, the windmills would have to be stopped. With our unmanned sharks that’s not necessary. In addition, we are now working on the ‘OilShark’, the concept of which has now been devised. This would allow us to clean up oil and other nautical fluids if they end up in the water. And what might be a nice dream for the future is that all large ships, for example superyachts and recreational users, have a WasteShark on board to help clean up the mess in the water or in the port where they moor and thus jointly bear the responsibility for clean water .”
Read the article by Waterrecreatie Nederland on link