Cleaning up our Oceans

Cleaning up our Oceans

Four engineering students from USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering spent their summer vacation working toward a noble and ambitious goal — to rid the world’s oceans of plastic debris. Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans every year (Jambeck et al, Science, 2015). This negatively impacts hundreds of species of wildlife, while causing economic damage to the fishing, shipping and marine tourism industries (UNEP Report on Microplastics 2017).

Clear Blue Sea is a local non-profit dedicated to cleaning the oceans of plastic pollution using unmanned, solar-powered marine robots. Working with students from both USD and SDSU, this summer’s goal was to develop a working prototype of a Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris (FRED). USD students received funding from Clarity Design, enabling them to perform a project to design and build a Solar Power Subsystem prototype which will help inform FRED’s design architecture.  

Clear Blue Sea’s Executive Director, Susan Baer, was thrilled with what the students achieved in such a short period of time.

“The fact that these students could create a working prototype in 10 short weeks is nothing short of a miracle,” Baer stated.

As in the real world of engineering, students were required to meet certain system requirements. The prototype built by the USD interns needed to be solely solar-powered and provide electricity for up to two hours without sunlight.

The integrated team of USD and SDSU students and Clear Blue Sea demonstrated their prototype on campus recently (see photo). The next step, according to Baer, is to acquire a used catamaran and retrofit it to create a full FRED prototype to be tested in San Diego waters.

The ultimate vision is to implement fleets of FREDs, each being 80 feet long by 40 feet wide, with the capacity of harvesting tons of ocean plastic debris. Please visit for more information.

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