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Fionn Ferreira: the guy who invented the method to remove microplastics from the sea

He is a 20 year-old Ireland boy, who developed a method for magnetization and recovery of plastic particles.

Fionn Ferreira was awarded with the Google Science Fair, winning the prize of 50 thousand euros for the best project of young people between 13 and 18 years. He is a scientist, anti-plastic pollution innovator focusing on solving the plastic pollution crisis. He is an environmental activist and also organized several beach cleaning operations, as well as building machines to quantify and collect plastic pollution.

When he heard about microplastics, the harmful tiny plastic particles that cause damage to ecosystems, he became even more upset and decided to find a solution to this problem. He put himself to work in his bedroom, using a few simple materials that he had at his disposal and instruments built by himself.

Fionn used the insight of Arden Warner, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago, who discovered the possibility of using magnetite powder, an iron oxide present in nature and harmless to living forms, to clean water contaminated by oil spills. This procedure allows to recover about 98% of oil once it has been magnetized.

The young scientist thought to apply the same principle also to microplastics that, like oil, are not polarized and tend to be miscible.

He tested his theory on 10 of the most popular types of plastic (HDPE, Epoxy, LDPE, Nylon, PET, Polyester, PS, PP, PVC and also on synthetic fibers produced by the fabrics after a cycle of washing machine): after inserting the microplastics in the water, first he added an oily compound and then the magnetite powder. After taking the magnetized oily patches, he analyzed the samples using a spectrometer and a digital microscope. He observed that he managed to capture on average 87.6% of the microplastics previously added.

Its discovery could be used as an effective and economical filtration system for wastewater in urban areas and industrial plants. Microplastics are currently one of the main problems of pollution of rivers and oceans and a threat to human and animal health.

He founded Fionn & Co. LLC where he is using his method to test and work on a device for the efficient removal of microplastics from water. He is currently working with Stress Engineering to fine-tune, build and test his designs.

“Fionn showed tenacity and dedication to solving an important environmental problem. He embodies the spirit of exploration” said Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief, Scientific American.


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