Working on projects that seek to make the world a better place is what has always motivated Nauco's founder and CEO, Lance Ayrault. From his work roles, such as CEO of the first car-sharing company in the United States, to his hobbies, such as fly fishing. It was in this activity that Ayrault became aware of the worrying state of Chile's rivers, both because of the lack of regulation, the decline in fish populations and the increase in the levels of garbage found in the most unexpected places, which is supported by shocking figures on the subject (see box).
That's why, watching the news in December 2020, Lance came across a novel concept for cleaning rivers used in Europe and Asia, which was based on bubbles.
After seeing it I called the people pioneering the concept in Europe to see if we could work together. Due to its focus on Europe and Asia the project had a very high implementation cost and was unfeasible for Latin America, which inspired me to create a different business model for Chile."Lance explains.
He then brought together a multidisciplinary team to create this project, which in Chile would be through the extraction of debris and plastics that travel along the riverbank, preventing them from entering the sea. The model would be tested in the south of the country to be replicated in the future in other rivers in Chile and the continent.
Nauco uses a bubble system, which is installed along the rivers, at strategic points on the shore according to the characteristics of each river. It works by means of a hydro-pneumatic mechanism, which supplies compressed air to a system of perforated pipes located at the bottom of the river, which ejects bubbles, generating a curtain of air bubbles. These rise to the surface harmlessly and move debris and plastic flowing with the current towards the shore. Once on the shore, these enter a "Receiving Pontoon", which allows the removal of the debris that sails through the course of the river's waters, both those in the surface current and those that sail underwater.
Why not use one of the many river cleaning systems available?
The novelty of Nauco is that, in addition to preventing plastics and waste from reaching the sea, it does not interfere with the river's ecosystem, does not affect its navigation, contributes to its oxygenation, does not visually contaminate, is silent and operates through renewable energies. In addition, after being collected, the plastics are concentrated and extracted for recycling, which can be used as raw material for a new product or sustainable initiative, thus generating a virtuous circle.
In addition to preventing waste in rivers from entering the sea, Nauco's work has other objectives such as: having a positive environmental impact in the place where it is installed; monitoring the amount of plastic in waterways to help develop new policies; connecting the waste to a circular economy with local partners; raising awareness in the population to prevent aquatic pollution; helping to build a powerful circular economy and reference in plastics and waste, connecting with local partners; educating communities about the importance of eliminating plastic waste from the environment; reaching 10.000 tons of plastic waste per year and transform the collected plastic into a resource.
Nauco as of today
During 2021 and early 2022, the microbubble system was tested in water, in two rivers: Rio Damas and Rio Negro (where exactly is it?) and it worked perfectly with external energy provided by a motor.
Discussions and evaluation are underway to install the system in two more rivers on a permanent basis for at least six months, in order to collect specific information on these rivers, the amount of waste, among other things, and to be able to take measurements to show the project to possible interested parties and investors.
In parallel, work is being done on a clean energy generation system, either with the power of the river current itself through a Water Wheel.
Finally, the idea is that the energy source in a second stage will be only renewable energy.