Boyan Slat is 20 years old. At the age of only 18, he appeared before investors for a TED talk and introduced himself as one of the “children” to whom the previous generation has left the task of cleaning up the planet. And with a small chuckle, Slat proceeded to wow his audience with not only his expertise, but also his fearless passion, courage and determination to take the task seriously.
When he was 16 years old, Slat an avid swimmer and diver went to Greece. He found that he was swimming among more plastic garbage than fish. He was so struck by the disaster that he spent the next half year researching to understand the problem of how so much plastic has ended up in the ocean and why it is so difficult to clean it up. Utilizing his gift for engineering, Slat set about designing a technology that would speed up the removal of plastic from the deep seas. Slat conceptualized a revolutionary technology for collecting the vast amounts of plastic that ends up in the ocean waters, but his idea did not gain much traction until his TED talk went viral, netting $2.2M in funding so far.
Slat says that previous attempts to clean up the plastic relied upon vessels spreading out nets, requiring billions of dollars and thousands of years. Also Slat observed that plastic does not stay in one spot, so he designed a system of floating barriers that are attached to the seabed, forming a V-shape. The barriers collect the plastic and move it to one spot in front of the “V” and then the platform can much more efficiently extract it. Slat claims his Ocean trash collector—Ocean Cleanup Array—can collect as much as 72.5 million tons of plastic garbage from the ocean’s waters.
Last month, in Seoul, South Korea, Slat announced that the world’s largest technology to passively clean up the ocean’s plastic pollution will deploy in 2016 off the coast of Tsushima Island. It will be 2000 meters in size and will be the longest floating structure ever to be deployed. It will float there for a period of two years, catching plastic pollution from the ocean waters and preventing it from reaching the shores of Tsushima Island.
In 2014, Slat left his aerospace engineering studies and founded Ocean Cleanup in order to focus his energies fulltime into development of the Ocean Cleanup Array. He was listed by Intel EYE50 as one of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs and received the United Nations Champions of the Earth award in 2014.