Fionn Ferreira, at the harbour of Lauwersoog in Groningen, taking water samples to examine possible water pollution caused by micro-plastics. Photo: JAN REINIER VAN DER VLIET/European Patent Office

Young inventor shortlisted for European patent prize

A 22 year old Cork man’s concerns for the environment and about plastic pollution has fuelled his passion for ocean conservation and ultimately drove him to develop an innovative solution.

Now, Fionn Ferreira from Ballydehob has been named as 1 of 3 finalists for the 2nd edition of the Young Inventors Prize, which the European Patent Office (EPO) established to inspire the next generation of inventors.

The prize recognises young innovators aged 30 or under who have developed technological solutions to tackle global problems and help reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ferreira’s invention contributes to UN SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, as it supports the sustainable management of water resources, wastewater and ecosystems.

As a chemistry master's degree student and teaching assistant at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, he created a way to remove microplastics from water using a unique mixture. His invention uses ferrofluid, a magnetic liquid mixture, which binds to microplastic particles, separating them from water and allowing for their removal using magnets.

The latest prototype, supported by Robert Downey Jr's Footprint Coalition, removes over 85% of microplastics in a single pass and can be used safely in drinking water. The process does not require filters and produces zero waste. It retains nearly all the magnetic liquid while removing microplastics.

The collected microplastics can be outsourced for future recycling possibilities, making the process environmentally friendly. Ferreira is currently working with the University of Texas in scaling his invention to a commercial model.

Hailing from a family of boat builders, Ferreira was inspired to create his invention when he noticed the amount of plastic by the sea near his home.

He explained: "I was utterly horrified by the massive amount of plastic that has amassed on the shore. The severity of the situation was overwhelming, and I felt an intense sense of urgency to comprehend the grave risks it poses.

“The fact that these plastics disintegrate into minuscule fragments, ultimately infiltrating our food chain and water, is having a devastating effect on our health. This is a stark reminder of the dire consequences of our actions.”

He founded Fionn & Co. LLC to perfect his invention, partnering with Stress Engineering Services to fine tune, build, and test his design. Currently pursuing a master's degree in chemistry,

Ferreira teaches tutorials in Concepts of Chemistry and Engineering as a teaching assistant at the University of Groningen. He is also developing several children’s television series and working on his first children’s book with hopes of inspiring and igniting young people’s interest in becoming inventors.

He said: “The pursuit of a microplastic-free future is a noble and essential cause that demands our attention and action. Everyone who commits to this cause is doing immeasurable good for our planet, and there is no limit to the good that can be achieved when we work together.”

The Young Inventors Prize winner will be announced at the European Inventor Award 2023 hybrid ceremony on 4 July in Valencia, Spain.