Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 7 - April 2020
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedMarch 18, 2020
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 7 - April 2020

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CLASSROOM CHALLENGE: The Artificial Island Manufacturing Challenge


Photo credit: Artificial Island - Lwr1016 at Chinese Wikipedia



Many ideas have surfaced over the last several decades about creating artificial islands for moving unwanted industrial processes out of the normal environment. These ideas have centered around such things as energy production, manufacturing, heavy industry, recycling, and chemical/processing plants. In this challenge, student teams can address using an artificial island for recycling batteries of all kinds.



Students must first identify the kinds of batteries that can be recycled, such as lead-acid, lithium-ion, etc. What is the general process for doing this? What are the chief materials streams and recycle residues? Learning how the process is configured is important as well. Determining who performs this recycling function today and learning about how this is done can be important to this design challenge.


What concerns does this industrial activity pose to the general community, such as:

•     Worker safety?

•     Environmental impact-liquid/air emissions?

•     Disposal of waste streams/materials?

•     Handling of recycled materials?

•     Spill mitigation?


What are the general methods, practices for dealing with this, and the regulations that govern them?


How large a manufacturing facility is needed to support this process on land—concerns such as:

•     Operating staff.

•     Building area—single or multiple floors.

•     Support services like electricity, natural gas, etc.

•     Roadways and access.

•     Special accessory facilities.


Designing the Artificial Island

The island should be designed to support this recycling process and ideally do it better than the land-based operation. So, the basic question becomes: how have artificial islands been constructed before? Research the basic construction techniques that have been used and settle on a design. How can the island be protected against the vagaries and destructive nature of waterborne storms and effects like wind-driven waves and tides?

Encourage the student teams to build scale models of the island design they favor. From where and how do the materials necessary to construct the island come? What might be the time required to build the island? What other benefits could an artificial island realize for the nearby onshore community:

•     Fishing areas?

•     Recreation opportunities?

•     Possible location of wind turbines?

•     Jobs?

•     Co-location of other industrial processes?

Explore the benefits versus community costs to be incurred.

Would an island be needed after all? Are there alternatives like a reconditioned large ship or maybe barges tied together? Look for creative alternatives.

Obviously, there will be no vehicular traffic via roads, so now provision must be made to move things to and from the island via boat or large ships. This implies docking and terminal points where various input/output shipments can be accomplished. There could be some interesting and applicable technology here from the offshore oil loading and unloading facilities used around the world today.

Should spills be anticipated, what kinds of protective barriers would be built onto the island to protect against water contamination? Certainly, the island will experience inclement weather, and the anti-contamination systems alluded to above must be able to accommodate this as well.

The utility services to the island must be brought from shore, or maybe these facilities must be produced on the island as well, using things like generators, solar energy systems, wind energy, bottle-fuel gases, etc. How might this affect the size of the island? Just how far should the island be from shore? Where is an ideal location for the island (certainly not estuaries or fish spawning/breeding areas)? How about loading docks and distribution facilities on the island?


Final Thoughts

Is this activity any different than planning a colony on a remote place like another planet, the moon, under the sea, or at the South Pole?

Strive to have your students balance their approach to this by identifying and evaluating the impacts and cost benefits of the artificial island.

If your school is near a body of water perhaps you can personalize the activity by selecting a spot in the water where this design challenge might be located. It could make for a better team activity, as things would be more familiar and closer to home. Otherwise, select a spot in your state that is well known and design around that spot.

Urge the teams to think both broad and deep about the challenge, looking at as many possible impacts and how to minimize them.


Harry T. Roman is a retired engineer/inventor and author of technology education/STEM books, math card games, and teacher resource materials. He can be reached at