Meet the new electric boats doing plastics clean up

With increasing concern about the plastics accumulating in our water and the carbon accumulating in our air, what better solution for both than plastics clean up boats that run on electric motors?

Map of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch showing 2x the size of Texas

To give you some idea of the enormity of plastic waste, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating island of plastic junk held together by cast off ocean trawler fishing lines –  weighs 80,000 tonnes, about the same as 500 jumbo jets, and covers 1.6 million square miles: an area twice the size of Texas, three times the size of France.

One of the ways to address this kind of accumulation is obviously to not let the garbage enter the oceans in the first place. The key is to have collection points in as many places as possible –  1000 rivers are responsible for roughly 80% of the ocean pollution.

So here are three recently introduced ‘world’s first’ electric boat solutions that are all designed to clean up inland waterways, lakes, harbours and ports and start to get a handle on this global garbage problem. 

Water Witch’s Versi-Cat: world’s first electric waste boat 

Liverpool-based Water Witch has been building boats to collect waste from rivers for decades and have chalked up a number of world firsts.

all electric boat with scoop at front to collect wasteNow they are teaming up with Torqeedo for the world’s first zero-emission waterway litter collection vessel. (While Indonesia’s Plakman solar powered workboats also double as plastic & waste removal vessels, they have not yet been put into service.)

Water Witch uses a Torqeedo Cruise 10 outboard, two Torqeedo Power 48 lithium-ion batteries and the Torqeedo cockpit control panel with system status, and range at current speed.

The Versi-Cat is a shallow draft boat designed for manoeuvrability in hard to reach places. It has a removable catchment basket which collects and filters debris and plastics such as coffee cups, plastic bottles, food wrappers, styrofoam and plastic bags through its inverted bows.

The system is tried and true and is currently being in over 200 specialist vessels with fossil fuel motors, so this electric option will hopefully expand the fleet even further.

Jackie Caddick, Director at Water Witch, said that “we have been working on this some time, but the breakthrough was the reliability and range of the Torqeedo system. We are passionate about the environment, and we see this technology as a critical step towards being carbon-neutral in our efforts to keep plastic pollution from entering our oceans and landing on our beaches.”

Waste Cleaner 6.6: world’s most powerful electric waste boat

Torqeedo is also the electric motor of choice for another river clean up boat that has been around for ages but introduced with a new electric option at Nautic France this weekend.

all electric boat with wide catcher at bow to collect wasteEfinor is laying claim to creating the most powerful all-electric boat designed for cleaning up pollution in inland waterways and harbours, the Waste Cleaner 66. It is powered by a Torqeedo 25kW Deep Blue motor with a 40 kWh Deep Blue battery.

Both the Water Witch and Waste Cleaner operate on a similar concept: the boat travels through the water with a collecting ‘mouth’ at the bow and waste is steered into a hold, then transferred to refuse trucks onshore.

The 6m (20ft) aluminium Waste Cleaner can retrieve up to 500kg (1,100lb) of solid waste and 1,000lt (263 gal) of liquid waste, including hydrocarbons like oil or fuel spills. The patented clean-up system also automatically separates water and hydrocarbons.

Ocean Cleanup’s electric boat solar powered Interceptor


Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch startup founded in 2013 by then 18 year old Boyan Slat. Talk about dreaming big! His goal is nothing less than to gather up 90% of the 5 trillion pieces of plastic littering our planet’s oceans. (Yes, 5 TRILLION)

The big target has been the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Ocean Cleanup is devising a passive system that will collect the plastic there and haul it back to land for recycling. In early October they announced that their

System 001/B is successfully capturing and collecting plastic debris. After one year of testing, we have succeeded in developing a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic

A few weeks after that announcement they introduced their solar powered Interceptor which is designed, like the Water Witch and Waste Cleaner, to pick up the plastic before it gets to open waters.

The Interceptor is not what we would usually call a boat but it does use electric motors to move into place on the rivers. Once the Interceptor is in place, a floating collection line steers any waste coming downstream onto its conveyor belts and into the vessel’s hold. The system operates 24 hours a day and the estimate is that each Interceptor can collect 50,000 kilograms of plastic per day.

The motor and collection mechanics are all powered through solar panels and battery storage and the goal is to get Interceptors operating in all of those 1,000 highest polluting rivers by 2025.

While these are the first all-electric plastics and waste collector vessels, Christoph Ballin, CEO Torqeedo, has no doubt they will not be the last. Speaking at Nautic France about the company’s involvement with Waste Cleaner, he said “The Deep Blue electric motor provides the low-speed torque and maneuverability needed to capture debris from the water while emitting no noise or exhaust fumes. We are getting substantial interest in electric power from other trash-removing vessel operators around the world.”

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