#TurnTheTide: Fionn Ferreira

Young climate leaders including Germany’s Luisa Neubauer, Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, and Ireland’s Saoi O’ Connor are demanding transformational change, and millions of youths around the world are echoing their calls. 

The movement has sparked innovation, with young people striving to find solutions to the world’s biggest environmental issues. And they’re making significant progress.

Determined to solve the problem of plastic waste in our oceans, 18-year-old Fionn Ferreira has developed a new method of removing microplastics from water, using a magnetic liquid called ferro-fluid. Ferro-fluid attracts microplastics when they are in water and sticks to them. As the liquid is magnetic, it can then be removed using magnets - bringing the microplastics with it. 

Ferro-fluid is a magnetic liquid consisting of an oil with iron particles suspended in it. The oil is used as a “binding agent” to stick the magnetic particles to the plastic. In Ferreira’s experiments, he used a combination of vegetable oil and magnetite powder, which is a form of rust powder, to ensure that it poses no threat to marine life. 

During the testing phase, Ferreira has tested the most commonly found microplastics in the environment: PET, LDPE, PP, HDPE, PS, PV, Nylon, Polyester, and Acrylic. Over thousands of tests, the result was an average extraction of 87%.

In order to implement this solution on a wide scale, Ferreira is designing a continuous flow system where contaminated water would flow through a layer of ferro-fluid until it becomes saturated. The plastic particles and the ferro-fluid could then be easily removed using electromagnets.

In recognition of his innovative idea, Ferreira was crowned the overall winner of the 2019 Google Science Fair, and awarded a $50,000 bursary. But he’s not satisfied to stop there, noting that this was a starting point for further research.

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“This project only forms the very beginning of this extraction idea, which has never been conducted before,” he said.

“Further research needs to be carried out to investigate the efficacy of various grades of magnetite, different types of magnetic systems, methods for separating the waste and the design of a system that could be introduced into treatment centres.”

An environmental enthusiast, he stresses the need for communal large scale action against climate change. When asked what advice he would give to young students and leaders around the world, he said, “Look at your daily life, look at what you can easily improve and how you can make a small difference. Do this every day, each day finding something new”.

Fionn Ferreira is one of many individuals making a difference. As part of UrbanVolt’s #TurnTheTide campaign, we are sharing stories from around the world about people, businesses and communities who are playing their part in the fight against climate change, in an effort to inspire action.

We want to hear about the changes that you’ve made, and the people and companies that inspire you. No matter how big or small, let us know. We want to highlight each and every little step which is contributing to a giant leap forward. 

Join the conversation by using #TurnTheTide.

Sarah Berney