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From Concept to Cleanup: University of Southampton Students Develop Advanced Nurdle Recovery Equipment

quarta-feira, 16 de agosto de 2023

Following on from our news article back in March this year, detailing our involvement in supporting students from the University of Southampton to conduct a plastic recovery training exercise, the students have now completed their Mechanical Engineering Research project. As part of the project, they were also given the opportunity to sit on the industry advisory group alongside Oracle Environmental Experts, UK Spill Association and ITOPF. 

Our involvement in this project strengthened our relationship with the external Plastic Pollution Working Group, evolved technology ideas for our internal plastics working group, and allowed us to restart our engagement with this University. 


The brief given to the students was to develop a "new" piece of equipment based on current technology and industry knowledge. To help the students understand the need for this equipment, they gained information from the lessons we learned from a nurdle spill in Sri Lanka. They could understand the main issues we experienced during this nurdle recovery and listen to what their stakeholders would want from their design. 

Uni Southampton Nurdle Project Equipment.JPG

Nurdles are plastic pellets approximately 5mm in diameter and are usually transported by container ships. Nearly all plastic products are made from nurdles. If an accident happens during transportation, it can cause the plastic pellets to enter the ocean, where their toxins contaminate the water, and they can enter the food chain. 

Based on our discussions, the students came up with 21 priorities with, the following being their top five: 

  • Effectiveness
  • Reliability
  • Transportability
  • Low environmental impact
  • Easy to manufacture in country 

They then developed three metrics to measure these priorities against their prototype:  

  • Grams of nurdles per second
  • Grams of nurdles per kJ energy used
  • Grams of nurdle per gram of sand 

Both OSRL, Oracle Environmental and UK Spill Association helped to support the students with two different environments to test their equipment prototype and also to rate it alongside other commercial plastic recovery devices

Our Development and Assurance Lead, Rob Holland and Technical Training and Development Advisor, Rhea Shears, organised a realistic in-field trial at Shamrock Quay, Southampton, UK, to see how robust their design was and how well it hit all three metrics. 

The day was a huge success, with their device collecting approximately two million plastic pellets from our local shoreline between various technologies the team trialled. 

After the Shamrock Quay trial, the students went away with their thoughts and our feedback before coming back with their finalised product, including a design makeover for the original prototype. 

The students created a video to share their design journey, which you can view here

We were very proud to support this project and help bridge research to response. 


Images sourced from The Nurdle Project website.