How a young inventor’s outburst at microplastics in West Cork waters led to an EU-wide award-winning innovation | Pro IQRA News

How a young inventor’s outburst at microplastics in West Cork waters led to an EU-wide award-winning innovation

 | Pro IQRA News

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His resulting innovation has now led him to the finals of a prestigious international competition.

The 22-year-old from Ballydehob has developed a method to extract the microscopic bits of plastic found everywhere in our water.

“While in Ireland I could not clean my lab glassware with water from the mains because there was more plastic in it than the samples I was testing,” he says.

He’s currently doing research in Svalbard, and even on this remote archipelago, roughly halfway between Norway and the North Pole, microplastics have been washed into what should be a pristine environment.

Ferreira has been working on his idea since he was just 16 years old when he was terrified of plastic near his coastal home where his parents are boat builders.

His invention uses a food-grade magnetic oil that is affixed to microplastics. The solution can then be drawn out of the water with a magnet.

Alternative methods exist, but they are heavy on equipment and energy. It is possible for water to evaporate, leaving behind microplastics, for example, but this takes huge amounts of heat to turn water into steam and more energy to cool steam back into water.

Ferreira’s method requires no electricity, and while his prototype is already ideal for confined areas like homes, he says it’s adaptable to anywhere, from water outflows in manufacturing facilities to wastewater treatment plants to open rivers.

The European Patent Office believed him and chose Fionn as one of three finalists in the annual European Inventor Prize which takes place in July.

You would think the water authorities would knock on his door but that is not the case.

The problem, he says, is the lack of regulation that requires the removal of microplastics.

The water companies seem very reluctant.

“Companies will not test for things unless they are forced to, otherwise they would have to remove that stuff from the water.”

A draft of a new water directive for Europe tentatively proposes to tackle this problem, but Fionn wants to see his technology in use everywhere.

He’s garnered some notable support, notably the FootPrint Coalition, an initiative founded by actor Robert Downey Jr. that advances sustainable business ideas.

Now Ferrera is trying to raise $2 million to get his invention on the market.

Meanwhile, he is studying for his master’s degree at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

He said that as a chemistry student, he had not been able to find a course in Ireland with the right mix of science and sustainability.

“I wanted one that was about sustainability, not sending me to a drug company.”

He is also writing a children’s book to encourage children to become inventors.

“Instead of teaching kids what will make them a lot of money in the future, we need to teach them how to fall in love with the environment, how to get angry at what happens to it, and give them a toolkit to solve some of these problems,” he says.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ferreira isn’t angry at the plastics manufacturers.

“Plastic is a wonderful material and not something we need to get rid of completely but instead we have to use it more wisely and re-engineer how we make it.”

He says the plastics industry has enormous knowledge and innovation, and this must be harnessed to tackle the problem at the source.

But this will not make his invention obsolete.

“We have a lot of plastic in the world, and we’re going to be dealing with this for hundreds if not thousands of years to come. That’s the sad truth.”