Home » How 22-year-old Fionn Ferreira wants to rid the oceans of microplastics

How 22-year-old Fionn Ferreira wants to rid the oceans of microplastics

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How 22-year-old Fionn Ferreira wants to rid the oceans of microplastics

On the occasion of World Oceans Day, today we are introducing an inventor who started working on a solution as a teenager to rid the oceans of microplastics in the future. His innovative solution for filtering microplastics from the water is said to work with the help of a self-created “ferrofluid mixture”. In May, 22-year-old Fionn Ferreira was even nominated for the Young Inventors Prize by the European Patent Office. In an interview with Trending Topics, he talks in detail about the history of his cleaning method, how he tested its effectiveness with homemade devices, his plans for the future, but also about the advantages and disadvantages of being a young inventor.

Clean oceans with magnetic power

Fionn Ferreira’s method of removing microplastics from water is simple but effective: years ago, he had the idea of ​​using a ferrofluid, i.e. a magnetic liquid mixture, to purify water. This allows plastic particles to be separated from the water and removed with the help of magnets. The latest prototype, supported by the Footprint Coalition, aims to remove over 85% of microplastics in a single pass. Ultimately, the water should be able to be used as drinking water.

The magnetic liquid should be almost completely preserved in the process. Ferreira’s goal is to collect microplastics and outsource them for later recycling.

Inspired by the manual skills of the parents

Ferreira grew up near the Irish coast in a family of boat builders. When asked what inspired his career, he replies: “I realized that most people these days think that you have to buy everything somewhere or have it made for you, and not that you can still create things yourself . Both my parents were involved in building physical objects. This showed me that I can build what I need myself – in my case devices for my home laboratory.”

But the area in which he grew up is said to have played an important role in his career. He recounts a profound wake-up call that happened on the West Cork seafront: “All I knew as a kid was that all the plastic in the water was an ugly sight. When I got older and found out that everything was falling into smaller and smaller parts and that I was drinking this water every day, the big turning point came for me. The perceived danger was confirmed when I did my first test of my own using my home-made spectrometer and found that there was far too much plastic in the water in the area I lived in.”

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First test device made of Lego and pieces of wood

Fionn Ferreira is said to have built the first version of his own spectrometer just mentioned as a teenager. In the interview, he explains in detail how his special method of cleaning water from microplastics came about: “It became clear to me early on that there was nobody in my area who tested for microplastics or looked for ways to get it out of the water remove it, so I wanted to do it myself.”

And further: “I was 14 or 15 and thought to myself that I basically just needed a machine that not only sends light through a sample and analyzes it, but also recognizes where the light comes from and how it changes as it passes through the sample . For my spectrometer I used lego bricks and some pieces of wood. I learned online how to make a small software. Then I could look at the light spectrum and figure out what was missing in the light spectrum and how much plastic there was.”

So when he first used his device, he thought it wouldn’t work properly because he found tons of microplastics in the water. However, he later realized that the water from his well actually contained a very high concentration of plastic as well. The fact that no one was doing anything about it troubled him.

The ferrofluid from school lessons

So he next looked for ways not only to make the problem visible, but also to actively fight it: “I initially thought that if I could use oil to pick up plastic, it might work quite well. But that would only have caused more pollution. I then had the idea of ​​making some kind of magnetic oil. And then I finally thought of a physics experiment I did in school that used magnets to control a liquid called ferrofluid. I was wondering what it would be like if I used ferrofluid to remove plastic from water.”

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Nevertheless, the young inventor makes it clear in the conversation that he has given a lot of thought to the correctness of his method over the past few years: “With my home device, I was able to determine an 87% reduction in plastics when using my magnet method. But of course my own spectrometer could not be trusted 100%. In contrast to the devices for 50,000 euros, it was ultimately just a 50-euro spectrometer. So I also built a microscope with which I could clearly see what is plastic and what is not. It’s called a Raman microscope and uses Raman light. But even so, I was able to see an 88 to 87 percent extraction. Even so, I still didn’t quite believe it. That’s why I sent some samples and a test device to experts in the USA, who confirmed my results with independent tests”.

Finally, in 2019, Fionn Ferreira began studying chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. During his studies he further developed his technology for removing microplastics and started to present it at fairs and competitions. He received an award at the prestigious Google Science Fair, putting his invention in the media spotlight.

Prototype for a small household

When asked if the method is already being used, he replies: “So far we only have a prototype. through which water can flow. Plastic and microplastic particles are thus removed directly from the water flowing through. My current model is suitable for a small household. Now, through fundraising and other actions, my team and I can scale it to a size that could be used to clean a wastewater treatment plant and for this application. But yes, it’s still a prototype. I hope that it can be used in test facilities soon.”

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Young Investors Prize 2023

Because of his efforts, Ferreira has also been nominated for the Young Inventors Prize this year. The prize recognizes initiatives by young inventors (up to the age of 30) and honors solutions that work for the sustainable development of the United Nations. The winners of the European Inventor Award will be announced on July 4th in Valencia during a hybrid awards ceremony.

About a potential win he thinks: “It’s more about being recognized in the community of inventors. My hope is that other young people will be inspired and realize that they can also invent, develop ideas and work on things that are important to them.”

“I also think that youth has power”

In keeping with the topic, he then speaks completely transparently about the advantages and disadvantages of being a young inventor: “I have the feeling that it takes a long time before you are taken seriously. Yes, I’m someone with limited experience who’s only been working on this for a few years. But I also believe that youth possesses a unique power that older people have lost — and that is the ability to think outside the box and make unexpected connections. It is precisely these that can lead to new ideas. For me, innovation and inventiveness embody the spirit of science. It’s about bringing things together in unconventional ways. Tunnel vision is not the right path for inventions. Youth has this superpower. Unfortunately, it is often only presented as a figurehead at events and conferences, without receiving the recognition that older inventors have. I think that has to change.”

As for receiving the prize money at the Young Investors Prize 2023, he plans to use it for the next generation of tests. He would like to start investigating how to deal with the plastics once they have been removed from the water, or how to separate them from the oil-magnetite mixture and reuse the end product.

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