VESSEL REFIT | Plastic Odyssey – Converted research vessel boasts plastic recycling facilities

Photo: Plastic Odyssey/Ulysse Nardin

Marseilles-based environmental advocacy non-profit Plastic Odyssey has begun a three-year project wherein a modified research vessel will visit over 30 ports in Asia, Africa, and South America to help raise awareness on marine plastic pollution and how it should be addressed via recycling and other sustainable means.

The 39- by 9.4-metre vessel, which is also named Plastic Odyssey, was acquired in 2019 after having previously served as an oceanographic research ship since the 1970s. The former Victor Hensen was then brought to the facilities of Damen Shiprepair Dunkerque where it underwent a complete overhaul that lasted 18 months.

Victor Hensen prior to conversion (Photo: Plastic Odyssey)

The overhaul included removal of asbestos, strengthening of the hull, and incorporation of multiple laboratories, workshops, offices, conference rooms, exhibition areas, a galley, toilets, and living spaces for seven crewmembers and up to 12 additional personnel consisting of scientific staff and media specialists. The accommodation spaces were designed to permit only the limited use of onboard plastics by the embarked personnel to further reduce the vessel’s environmental impact.

Even the propulsion system has been upgraded to enable the vessel to run on fuel derived from plastic waste via a process known as pyrolysis. Non-recyclable plastics are transformed into fuel to power the engines. This transformation is possible thanks to an onboard pyrolysis machine, which is capable of producing between 30 and 40 litres of fuel per hour.

The upgraded vessel now also boasts a comprehensive electronics suite that includes Simrad bridge electronics and Marlink satellite and global 4G communications gear. The bridge features innovative meteorological routing software that will help optimise fuel consumption.

Photo: Odyssey

Plastic Odyssey is configured to accommodate testing of new recycling technologies, and the actual operation of these recycling systems can be seen firsthand by visitors who come on board. With over 200 square metres of technical space and a loading capacity of approximately 20 tonnes of equipment, the vessel can host around fifteen technologies destined to be tested in even remote areas. It is also equipped with an array of machinery for processing new pieces and developing prototypes with the objective of having numerous examples of recycling technology in the countries that will be visited over the three-year duration of the project.

During each stopover, which will last three weeks, one of the main priorities will be to train local entrepreneurs to set up plastic recycling centres in their respective communities. In each country, a range of low-tech, low-cost, open-source recycling solutions will be tested and demonstrated to the entrepreneurs to help them create new products (such as bags, tiles, and pipes) as a way of upcycling plastic waste.

Plastic Odyssey
Type of vessel:Research vessel
Owner:Plastic Odyssey, France
Builder:Damen Shiprepair Dunkerque, France
Length overall:39 metres
Beam:9.4 metres
Other electronics:Simrad; Marlink
Accommodation:Laboratories; workshops; offices; conference rooms; exhibition areas; cabins; galley; toilets

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