Race For Water – Fighting Plastic Pollution In Our Oceans

By Miranda Lee 18 November, 2019

Sailing around the world for 5 years with 100% renewable energy, the Race for Water Foundation's Lee explores

The Race for Water Foundation's second Odyssey is underway on the world's largest solar-powered catamaran; the first Odyssey already made a global assessment of marine plastic pollution
At each stopover (including the Tokyo Olympics), the second Odyssey aims to raise awareness & deploy local solutions to transform plastic waste into energy e.g. BIOGREEN
The Odyssey is also a vehicle for accelerating energy transition, with 512m2 of solar panels, 40m2 of self-piloted kite & 7.5m3 of hydrogen to show sustainable solutions for ocean conservation exist

Created in 2010 by Marco Simeoni, a Swiss entrepreneur passionate about the sea, the Race for Water Foundation is dedicated to the preservation of our oceans.

Through its expeditions, the Foundation studies and raises awareness of the extent of plastic pollution on our ecosystems, while providing pragmatic and relevant solutions on land in order to prevent plastic waste from reaching waterways.

In 2015, Race for Water launched its first Odyssey to make a global assessment of marine plastic pollution

In 2015, Race for Water launched its first Odyssey to make a global assessment of marine plastic pollution. As part of this expedition, the boat and crew visited 33 beaches on islands close to the five main oceanic gyres. The findings were clear: “plastic islands” do not exist. Only 1-3% of plastics remain on the surface. Instead, there is a “soup” of toxic microplastics swirling within these oceanic gyres, with catastrophic effects on the marine fauna and the entire food chain. Discover more about the 2015 Odyssey here.

In 2017, the Race for Water Foundation set sail on its second Odyssey on board the world’s largest solar-powered catamaran

Simeoni and his team realised that heading out to collect plastic waste at sea was unrealistic. We very quickly became aware that the solution was on land. It is absolutely vital that we prevent plastic waste from reaching the oceans”, he explains. 

And so, on 9th April 2017, the Race for Water Foundation set sail from Lorient, France, on its second Odyssey around the world, on board the world’s largest solar-powered catamaran. Set to last five years, the aim of this Odyssey is to demonstrate that sustainable solutions for ocean conservation do exist thanks to innovative technologies.

Race for Water odyssey 2017-2021

The second Race for Water global expedition is now almost at the midway point of its 5-year journey, which will include some 35 stopovers around the globe – including presence at the Tokyo Olympics next year – and set to welcome on board an expected 50,000 children, decision-makers and government authorities throughout. Discover more about all the stopovers here.

At each stopover, the Odyssey raises awareness, identifies, promotes & deploys local solutions for transforming plastic waste into energy e.g. the BIOGREEN

At each stopover, and particularly at islands and large coastal towns, which are both victims and sources of marine plastic pollution, the Odyssey’s mission is to raise awareness, identify, promote and deploy local solutions for transforming plastic waste into energy. In particular, through the presentation of a revolutionary piece of technology which is capable of converting plastic into electricity: the BIOGREEN.*

In anticipation of a circular plastic economy that is sustainable and environmentally friendly, this is a realistic solution from the Race for Water team that, deployed on a large scale, can a) prevent plastic from entering our oceans, b) give value to “wild” plastic waste as a viable energy resource, and c) provide jobs and additional income to local communities.

For us the best option today is to transform plastic waste into energy because plastic is made of petrol, so it has a lot of kilocalories inside; it’s very energetic…

…so, transforming the plastic waste into energy is for us the most efficient way yet, but I hope that in the near future we will be able really to recycle and put the plastics in the circular economy.”

Marco Simeoni, Founder of Race for Water Foundation

Sun, Wind, Water: Sole sources of energy for the Race for Water vessel

Aware that plastics is not the only source of pollution the ocean has to face, Race for Water is also fully committed to energy transition. ”For this latest Odyssey we’re navigating the waters with a vessel powered solely by clean energies: sun, wind and hydrogen”, comments Marco Simeoni. “It’s essential to demonstrate that navigation using clean energies is possible and that energy transition is a reality.”

For this latest Odyssey we’re navigating the waters with a vessel powered solely by clean energies: sun, wind and hydrogen… it’s essential to demonstrate that navigation using clean energies is possible and that energy transition is a reality.”

Marco Simeoni, Founder of Race for Water Foundation

The Race for Water Odyssey is also a vehicle for accelerating energy transition

With 512 m2 of solar panels, a 40 m2 self-piloted towing kite at 150m altitude, 7.5 m3 of hydrogen stored at 350 bars, and zero carbon emissions produced, the Foundation’s vessel is a truly unique showcase for renewable energies. Whilst on the one hand, the Race for Water Odyssey is an ambassador for practical solutions to the scourge of global plastic pollution, on the other, it is a vehicle for accelerating energy transition, by demonstrating that a vessel powered by a mixture of solar-hydrogen-kite energies is capable of completing a remarkable 5-year odyssey around the world. For a tour of the vessel, watch this video.

Learn, Share, Act: A 3 programme odyssey

Since its creation in 2010, in order to maximise the impact of its actions, the Race for Water Foundation has drawn up its LEARN – SHARE – ACT programme:

LEARN Contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge on plastic pollution in our waterways

SHARE Alert decision-makers, raise awareness among the general public, and educate the younger generations

ACT Promote and implement solutions with a sustainable economic, environmental and social impact

Here are some statistics from the ACT programme:

  • 50% – of our oxygen is produced by the oceans.
  • 50% – of humanity is nourished by the oceans.
  • 80% – of marine waste comprises plastics.
  • 1.5 million animals die each year because of plastic waste in the ocean.
  • 50kg of plastic waste is generated per person per year (5-10 per cent of which ends up in the oceans).
“We have a boat, but we don’t clean the ocean. For us it’s too late. Once the plastic is at sea it’s degrading, it’s impossible to clean up. [The plastic] we see on the surface represents just 1 per cent. The rest is in the sea, the sediment, on the beach

Camille Rollin, ACT Programme Manager.

The team carries out a series of events including workshops & educational visits at each stop

At each stopover, the Race for Water team carries out a comprehensive series of events including workshops and educational visits, engaging with schoolchildren, key local decision-makers, business leaders and NGOs, not only to introduce Race for Water’s BIOGREEN solution, but also to facilitate discussions and alliances for the future.

“It’s important to speak about the plastic problems but it’s not enough – we’ve got to provide solutions… just telling people it’s bad to use plastic is one part, but what we should do – and why we have the ACT programme – is what we can do to act to change things.”

Marco Simeoni, Founder of Race for Water Foundation

Race for Water key statistics 

  • 10 Scientific missions programmed with universities and international institutions
  • 50,000 Children, decision-makers, industry manufacturers, media and government authorities expected aboard Race for Water during stopovers
  • 1 Field survey carried out at each stopover in order to deploy our solutions
  • 3 sources of energy: the sun, the wind and water
  • 0 CO2 emissions
  • 512 m2 of solar panels and storage in the 7.5 tons of Lithium-ion batteries
  • 36 hours of navigation with energy autonomy
  • 7.5 m3 of hydrogen at 350 bars stored in 25 bottles
  • 40 m2 self-piloted Kite wing deployed at 150 m altitude
  • 4-8 knots speed without the use of electric motor power

The Race for Water vessel will remain in Hong Kong until the new year, at which point it will continue on its journey of exploration and action in China and then Japan. Check out their website for more information here.

*A more detailed article outlining the Race for Water Biogreen machine and its Plastic Waste to Energy programme will be published next year. 


Further Reading

  • HK Submerged? Is This Map For Real? – Rising sea level is a catastrophe waiting to happen but we have to avoid alarmism & choose the right map to visualise the risks. Getting the right scenarios also matter. Find out more in our review
  • Why Hong Kong Needs A Meat Tax – Want to help stop Amazon deforestation? How about better health? With Asia’s climate action looking bleak, Greenqueen’s Ho sees a meat tax as HK’s chance to become a regional leader
  • Nepal Clean Irrigation Initiative – Up in the mountains, communities still rely on fossil fuels but Solerico is out to change that in Nepal with solar-powered pumps. Their co-founder & CEO Spencer expand on the challenge, financials & impact
  • Shrinking Plastics – Implications Of Tighter Regulations On The World Industry – Plastics are on the way out as governments put stricter laws in place. How should investors respond? WWF HK’s Rawle, Champagne & Hilton share from their latest report
  • Climate Action 100+ First Progress Report – Having brought 370+ global investors together, what has Climate Action 100+ achieved? From setting emissions reduction targets to disclosing climate scenario analyses, check out key results from their director Wright
  • Plastic Waste: The Vector For Change – USD13billion is the annual cost of impact of plastic pollution to our oceans. Doug Woodring, founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, shares challenges ahead and strategies for a plastics-free ocean
  • Plastic, China & The Circular Economy – Can we avoid more plastics than fish by 2050? Only around 10% of plastics gets recycled, but this is where opportunities lie. Woodring, founder of Plasticity Forum, shares key points from the 5th annual forum on the circular future of plastic
  • Eight Million: China & The Global Plastic Challenge – Sustainable Asia’s Marcy Trent Long & Sam Bekemans share their new podcast series “Eight Million”, which looks into the plastic waste pollution issue globally & in China and what is being done. China Water Risk is featured in episode 2
  • Modern Water Dispensers: Shifting Consumers Off Plastic – With Hong Kong throwing away 5.5 million plastic bottles every day, Urban Spring’s Jennie Wong explains how their network of water refill stations could be the way forward
  • Can Loop’s 21st Century Milkman Fix Plastic Plague – Called the 21st Century milkman, is Loop’s circular shipping platform the answer to our planets massive plastic problem? Corporate Knight’s Adria Vasil explores

Miranda Lee
Author: Miranda Lee
Miranda joined the Race for Water Foundation in July 2019 and is responsible for press relations at each of the Odyssey's stopovers, as well as ongoing international PR for the tour. She previously worked in communications for leading ethical and sustainable coffee brand Percol, the first to bring plastic-free and compostable packaging to the UK market.
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