Trimaran on five-year green voyage to make KK stop Aug 20
Published on: Sunday, August 18, 2019
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Aerial view of the 512sq metre of solar panels which generate 67pc of its electricity.
SOMETHING extremely exciting is coming to the shores of Kota Kinabalu on Aug 20 – the arrival and 20-day stopover of a completely renewable energy powered 100-tonne, 114ft long trimaran on a five-year odyssey or long voyage around the world.   

It wasn’t meant to stop over at Kota Kinabalu at all. It was meant to sail straight from Jakarta to Palawan, Philippines, and bypass Sabah altogether.

But thanks to a determined, never-say-die founder of No More Plastics in Our Water (NOW), Marinah Embiricos, who lobbied Marco Simeoni – the brilliant Swiss entrepreneur who founded the Race for Water and finally said, “Yes, Kota Kinabalu, here we come!”

Marinah’s effort gives Sabah the benefits and inspiration we otherwise miss through a boat set out on an unprecedented vision and mission.   


A trimaran powered solely by renewable energy  

But first, let’s look at the most visible part of the trimaran with a sole reliance on renewable energy from the sun, wind and hydrogen to power it around the earth for five long years.


One – Solar energy

Mounted on top are 512sq metres of solar panels generating electricity stored in eight tonnes of batteries.   

The solar panels produce 67pc share of electricity generated and stored in eight tonnes of lithium batteries, enabling a 36-hour navigation range. In this way the batteries are re-charged each day and then run down at night to enable the trimaran to make continuous headway.

Two – Kite

The share of energy produced by towing the kite deployed at an altitude of 150 metres, is 24pc.  

In reality, this value corresponds with the energy saved in relation to use of electric thrusters. In what they call appropriate weather conditions, the kite wing enables the trimaran to reach a speed of five to eight knots. 

Three – Hydrogen

The share of energy produced from 200kg of hydrogen stored in 25 bottles at 350 bars is 9pc.  The hydrogen delivers around 2,600kWh of electricity to power the engine and recharge the batteries, enabling an additional range up to six days at five knots. 


Marco Simeoni – founder of Race for Water. 


Symbol of energy transition to a new age  

But if you ask founder Marco Simeoni, he’ll be emphatic about one transcendent purpose he wants to tell the whole world: “We are accelerating energy transition by demonstrating that a vessel powered by a mixture of solar –hydrogen-kite energy is capable of completing a remarkable five-year odyssey around the world. This second expedition 2017-2021,” which involves 38 stopovers and ‘Act’ projects to show case a value chain for converting plastic wastes into energy in not so costly fashion.

However, given a practical business background, Marco does his best to avoid an apocalyptic picture by branding this long voyage as “The odyssey of hope: plastics are the problem and the solution”.


Demonstrating two practical solutions to the plastic issue  

“The latest and second five-year expedition around the world demonstrates the existence of practical solutions for preserving the oceans,” he said.

“On the one hand, we are demonstrating that if we take action on land, it is possible to curb the pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes.” 

On the other hand, we are accelerating energy transition by demonstrating that a vessel powered entirely by renewable energy can complete a five-year journey around the world, he said.


Businessman-cum-avid sailor who saw the plastic horror

Since this is the second odyssey around the globe which visits KK, we must look at what prompted Marco to launch the first voyage titled “Race for Water Odyssey: A Race against time”, which set out from Bordeaux, France, on March 15, 2015.

Marinah said Marco was a very successful businessman who was also an avid sailor.

Ah, small wonder, he must have been horrified by his direct experience of the so-called Pacific trash and plastic islands and sold his business to SwissCom for a fortune to devote the money and himself to do this transcendent purpose.


First global study of five five gigantic trash ‘gyres’ in oceans  

It turned out the original objective of this unique endeavour was to conduct the first global assessment of plastics in the ocean by visiting island beaches situated in the so-called five trash vortexes.     

In all, it is said 260 billion tonnes of plastic wastes are currently polluting the seas with an additional 25 million tonnes added to it every year.   

This huge volume of trash reportedly accumulated inside immense whirlpools of water created by marine currents in five gigantic heaps of debris called trash “gyres” or vortexes.

But out of these five in existence, only one in the North Pacific Gyre was actively studied. So setting out from Bordeaux in April 2015, the unprecedented Race for Water Odyssey aspired to reach all the five trash “gyres” in these remote places to collect and analyse systematically for the first time all the planet’s trash gyres of accumulated wastes in these remote paces.


Trash ‘gyro’ in Central America. 


Surprising find: Plastic islands don’t exist  

Anyway, the maiden voyage yielded surprise information.

According to Race for Water fact sheet: “From the information gleaned during the 2015 odyssey, it is a statement of fact that ‘plastic islands do not exist, so heading out to collect plastic waste at sea proves to be but a pipedream!’

“Indeed, at the heart of the oceans languishes a soup of micro-plastics, which drifts about at the mercy of the ocean gyres. What there is at the surface represents less than 1pc of the plastics in the ocean. 

“We very quickly became aware that the solution was on land. Combined action is essential in preventing plastic waste from reaching the waterways and the oceans through the development of sustainable social models and business models that inspire its collection.”

“It’s vital that we take action,” Marco was quoted as saying.


Only 1pc of 260 billion tonnes float on surface  

So, if only 1pc of the 260 billion tonnes of plastic dumped into the oceans are floating on the surface, where has the 99pc gone? The answer is now we know the widely-held idea that plastics are virtually indestructible and take hundreds of years to disintegrate in not right.         


Surprise Japanese study: Plastics not indestructible after all

In one pioneering first study to look at what happens over the years to these billions of tonnes of plastic wastes floating in the oceans, lead researcher Dr Katsuhiko Saido from the Nihon University, Chiba, Japan, reported that plastics in the warm oceans actually decompose at a surprising rate of less than one year when exposed to the sun, rain and other environmental factors.

He made this stunning statement at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society as far back as 2009.

The magic power that breaks up plastic very fast in the open ocean turned out to be ultra violet rays combined with air and probably water. But is that good news? Unfortunately, it is bad news. 


Race for Water’s container-sized machine to transform waste to energy by the action of heat. 


Increasing evidence of infertility from toxic chemicals of degraded plastics  

Dr Saido, a chemist, found that the degrading plastics released two toxic chemicals not found in nature – bisphenolA (BPA) and PS oligomer which are endocrine disruptors that can mimic body hormones and behave like estrogen,

seriously affecting reproductive systems with increasing evidence of infertility in male and female, as well as cancer even at low levels.     

When Dr Saido used a room temperature process to degrade plastics, he found three new compounds not found in nature formed – styrene monomer (SM), stylene dimer (SD) and styrene (ST). Styrene is a suspected carcinogen. 

So although plastics can degrade fast when exposed to the elements, the products are harmful to man and nature.


Race for Water inspired by cyclical economy

Taking inspiration from the so-called cyclical economy, Simeoni reportedly asked if there is a way to transform plastics into energy which benefits both human and the environment, just as how gluttonous one-celled bacteria transform any organic matter such as wood, grass, food into useful compounds in a biodegradation process via enzymes and acids excreted, even in the hidden darkness of soil. 

The problem is bacteria turn up their noses at plastics and skip it entirely because of its large, long molecular structure strung together by carbon to carbon bonds. So, is this the end of the story for any natural decomposition of plastics?

In a very restricted sense, a Canadian student of Waterloo Collegiate Institute found certain types of bacteria can break down plastics and won a top prize in a Canada-wide Science Fair.  But that has not been replicated at industry level. 


Dedicated to stop plastics reaching waterways

So, until now, photo degradation of plastics requiring ultra violet rays from sunlight remains the only way to break the bonds holding together the long molecular chains to turn big pieces of plastics into lots of smaller pieces.

Knowing full well man cannot depend on natural cycles to breakdown plastics safely, Race for Water is committed to its five-year expedition around the world; dedicated to stop the exponential trend of wild plastic reaching waterways and to promote energy transition, using the Ocean, the Sun and the Wind as its sole sources of energy.


Frontal view of the 100-tonne Race for Water trimaran. 


Transcendental goal: Transform plastic to energy It has set itself three goals: 

Promote innovative solutions to transform plastic waste into energy;

Accelerate the clean energy transition and contribute to scientific studies and raise awareness about the urgent need to preserve the oceans. Why is its stopover in Kota Kinabalu important? 


Action Plan for KK Stopover

Because it will showcase its Action Plan in Each Stopover, which is: Implement A Value Chain for Plastic Waste which involves four processes: (1) Collecting  (2) Remunerating which are not-for profit organisation (3) Pyrolysis Processing using innovative waste-to- energy technology and (4) Generating energy as a profitable output. All these actions highlight three important outcomes:  

1. Environmental outcomes: Stop the flow of plastics waste reaching our oceans; Protect thousands of marine species and consequently human health; Preserve phytoplanktons which produces half the world’s oxygen.

2. Economic Value Creation: Provide sustainable source of energy; Profitable model with local impacts; Improve the waste management efficiency for the local communities and reduce cost.

3. Social Impacts: Create thousands of jobs of waste collectors; Provide a better quality if life and health improvement; Educate for a change in human behaviour and improve environmental awareness.

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