PLASTI-BINE: A Cheap and Plastic Degrading Hydraulic Turbine

This water turbine filters and degrades plastics into micro plastic using a plasmid PETase solution while generating electricity.

Photo of Chaitra Raghupathi
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):


Date You Started Your Project

September 24, 2020

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Over 380 tons of plastic are produced every year. More than 8 million pieces of plastic are injected into our oceans everyday. Plastic pollution disrupts the marine ecosystem and microplastics (MPs) travel up the food chain. Research shows that humans consuming seafood are intaking over 800 MPs in their meals per year. Needless to say, MPs interfere with hormones and have been linked to fertility issues and various cancers.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

I seek to solve this problem in a sustainable, automated, modular manner all under 75 dollars. The device I’ve constructed filters and channels plastic waste through a cycle of degradation, which results in safe, soluble molecules that can be released back into the water. Every 6 weeks, the plastics are automatically loaded in PETase + MHETase solution. PETase degrades PET into MHET which is then broken down by MHETase to produce ethylene glycol and acid terephthalic. At the end of 6 weeks, the broken down, environment-safe particles are released into the water. With a water turbine, my device leverages the hydraulic energy of the running water and converts it to electrical energy. Therefore, the movement of the subsystems in my device, for the degradation of plastics, is automatic. Excess electrical energy can be used as a supplement to power the local electricity grid. Due to its modular nature, my product can be implemented in streams of water ranging from shallow creeks to wide rivers. In practice, each module would be lined up perpendicular to the current of the water to encompass all the water flowing downstream.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

I make use of chemistry, in the primary method of converting micro plastics into safe, soluble particles that can be released back into the water. The enzymes I use, PETase with MHETase, are actually newly developed enzymes that are proven to break down plastic into molecules that other bacterias such as Ideonella Sakaiensis biodegrade. I make use of electrical engineering in my water turbine mechanism using the design of a pelton wheel to convert the rotations of my turbine into electricity. The rod used to hang the wheel is connected to a motor on it, which is what converts the energy. I make use of mechanical engineering in the design of my apparatus. I constructed my own gears and fit them into specific ratios to ensure that the plastic debris is cycled exactly once every 6 weeks. I utilized the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAD software to 3D print parts that allow all the processes of filtration, degradation, and energy production to occur simultaneously. I make use of mechanical + physical engineering to design a mesh structure that uses the force of gravity and pressure of incoming water to physically separate plastic pieces from water without disrupting the rush and flow of water.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

One day I accompanied my mom to Ranch 99. I enjoyed going with my mom because I would remind her to buy fish without bones -- a big pet peeve of mine. At the market, I picked out a sardine and my mom asked a man to chop it up. I still remember the vivid expression -- a combination of surprise and perplexion -- on my mom’s face as she observed the man. He cut into what appeared to be a small piece of thin plastic wrap. Upon doing so, he immediately tossed out the entire fish and calmly told my mom to pick out a new fish. My mom walked right out of the store. Not only was I surprised that there was plastic in my fish, but I was also surprised that the man at the market was simply not surprised! Never had I thought of plastic in the oceans as such a prevalent issue, but that day was a stepping stone in my awareness of its magnitude.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

I completely designed, researched, built, and tested a functional prototype of my product. First, I sketched designs on my iPad. I had to research how turbines worked, what wheels were used, different filtration/separation systems, the chemistry behind my plasmid solution, how to convert hydraulic/mechanical energy to electrical energy, and how to compute the mathematics behind gear ratios. I had to learn how to use CAD software and the process to 3D print parts.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Current solutions only filter plastic debris. They do not degrade plastic, nor do they generate electricity, and therefore require human intervention. A popular current solution, The Ocean Cleanup, requires a sea vessel to transport collected plastic to shore. Ultimately, existing solutions address the idle plastic debris surfacing oceans, but they do not address the root cause of the issue itself -- littering at streams of water or bays. Especially because my device is modular, I believe that it can be scaled and effectively serve as a “gatekeeper” for polluted water that flows into the ocean

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

In my current iteration, I am able to produce ~ 10W of energy with a 5V motor. Furthermore, 85% of incoming water is yielded towards the hydraulic energy which is then converted to electrical energy. In terms of metrics, I plan to thoroughly calculate how much enzyme solution I use, how many microplastic particles my filters capture, how much electricity I generate, and the distribution of these statistics across different modules. Due to the duality of my design, I will be making a positive difference if the modules generate any electricity. If the modules capture a positive number of microplastics and our enzyme dispensation is frugal, I will consider that a success. Over the iterations, I predict that I will primarily look to increase the micro plastic particles captured by my filters and decrease the amount of enzyme solution dispensed.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Apart from functionality, my first goal is to ensure that this solution is scalable. I realize there are many anomalies that my device could encounter -- after all people can throw just about anything they want into a river. As a result, I am looking to propose my idea to research facilities and local institutions affiliated with environmental sciences. I intend to learn more about the problems I may face, and fix them before I actually deploy my device in the real world. After I adapt my solution such that it is scalable, my next plan of action would be to actually introduce it in my city. I hope to work with city officials, install a few of these devices against the current of a nearby shallow creek, and collect data over 6 months.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

2 workers at Home Depot, Ali and Earl, were enticed in the complexities of my idea and ended up helping me find suitable parts for 2 full hours. They ended up going to each corner of Home Depot with me, to find the perfect materials to make my product come to life. It was their instant dedication and belief in me and my idea that I still remember to this day. All I showed them was a rough sketch of my design on my iPad, and the attention they showed to it further encouraged me to do this.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Other changemakers that are experts in research, mechanical and electrical engineering, design, chemistry, and especially environmental science could pose as perfect partners. Changemakers with a big reach on social media, could increase awareness around plastic pollution and give this product exposure, allowing it to become a reality.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

I would describe my personal experience at the market to them. I believe one of the biggest issues is a lack of awareness. As such, people know that plastic exists in the ocean, but very few realize that such microplastics could actually end up in their food. With no downside to my project, I believe I need to spread awareness on this topic and help people understand the magnitude of the situation.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Research

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Probably - 25%

Maybe - 25%

Probably not - 25%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 25%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 25%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 25%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 25%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 25%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not. - 75%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 100%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 50%

2 - Probably not - 50%

1 - No - 50%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not - 25%

1 - No - 25%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so - 0%

3- Maybe - 0%

2- Probably not - 50%

1- No - 25%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 0%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 0%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 25%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 75%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 50%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 25%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 75%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Luna Abadia

I love how you've worked to address two issues at once: microplastic pollution in oceans, and our continued use of nonrenewable energy. I hope you're able to implement more of these devices into your community!

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