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Cleaner Seas Group – creating innovative technology to remove microplastics from the environment

Founded in 2018, Cleaner Seas Group has a mission to develop products that remove micro and nano plastics from the environment and which have global market potential. There is more and more evidence of plastics from the fibres of synthetic clothing finding their way into our oceans, as one of the founders, James Sirmon explains:

“Every time a machine load of polyesters goes through the wash, it sheds an average of 700,000 plastic microfibres. Once they are in the water course, it is almost impossible to remove them due to their microscopic size. They need to filtered out at source.”

To tackle this problem, the company has invented a revolutionary washing machine filter which overcomes issues not addressed by other products currently on the market.  The product, which is called Indikon-1, uses a cartridge to easily wind on fresh filter paper, thereby helping to avoid blocked filters. The cartridge is later returned to the Cleaner Seas Group for recycling.  This unique design has been patented.

In order to accelerate the research and development of Indikon-1, the company originally engaged with Marine-i in 2019, which led to a working partnership with the specialist technology research team at University of Plymouth. An initial programme of research was used to define the market opportunity and test trial filter materials rigorously in a range of domestic washing machines.

James Sirmon says:

“This work was invaluable in helping us accelerate the development of Indikon-1. It gave us the critical information that we needed to design a working prototype for Proof of Concept testing.

“In autumn 2020, a further two month programme of research was carried out at University of Plymouth, for which we designed and built a test unit with an electric motor to roll on the filter paper. We needed to ensure that, when the washing machine is switched on, the initial rush of water did not tear the filter paper. We also wanted to test the resilience of the filter across a wide range of wash types and temperatures.

“A crucial part of this research was to determine the ideal point at which the fresh filter media needs to be spooled, so that it doesn’t slow down the draining time for the machine. This had to be tested over many cycles to gather all the data that we need.

“This round of research provided the information that we required to complete the final design of the washing machine filter. 

Our latest round of testing shows that our product achieves a microfibre capture rate of 82% at 1 micron. This makes our filters 60% more effective than any other product currently on the market. This is an excellent result as the closest filter on the market in terms of capture rate is capturing 78% at 60 micron.  

Professor Richard Thomson, OBE FRS of University of Plymouth says:

“Microplastics including fibres from clothing have accumulated in our oceans on a global scale.  There are solutions and working together across industry, academia and wider society we can tackle the problem. Part of the challenge of fibre release clearly lies in the design of the yarns and textiles themselves, but filtration devices also offer an opportunity for intervention. My team at the University of Plymouth are pleased to be able to provide independent scientific evidence to help inform industrial innovation to reduce plastic pollution.”

James Sirmon adds:

“Cleaner Seas Group participate in an All-Party Parliamentary Group on microfibres and we have contributed to a paper to go to the UK government to inform new legislation to cover microfibre capture from washing machines. The French Government have already brought in legislation to cover this which will come into effect in 2025. 

Cleaner Seas Group has also been named in the OECD's report on mitigation measures for microplastics pollution originating from tyres and textiles. It is very exciting to be at the forefront of this innovation in reducing plastics pollution.

Meanwhile, we have changed our business model to a licensing company and we are in talks with stakeholders and OEMs about our technology. The future looks extremely exciting for Cleaner Seas Group.”

Prof Lars Johanning, Programme Director for Marine-i, concludes:

“Cleaner Seas Group should be congratulated for the ingenuity of their idea and the way in which they have overcome the various technical challenges involved in commercialising their product. Not only does Indikon-1 represent a valuable market opportunity for their business, it can also make a real difference to improving the health of our oceans and marine life.”

Photo: Prof Richard Thompson and Imogen Napper from University of Plymouth