Boyan Slat is one to watch in the 2020s as his Interceptor vessel and ambitious project to clean the rivers takes shape

Boyan Slat, CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch non-profit organization developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, late last year unveiled his invention to prevent the unrelenting flow of plastic pollution into the world’s oceans. The Interceptor™, under development by Boyan Slat’s The Ocean Cleanup since 2015, complements the organization’s founding mission by attacking the flow of plastic garbage at its source, the world’s vast network of rivers.

“To truly rid the oceans of plastic, we need to both clean up the legacy and close the tap, preventing more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place. Combining our ocean cleanup technology with the Interceptor™, the solutions now exist to address both sides of the equation,” said Boyan Slat.

The Interceptor™ is the first scalable solution to intercept river plastic pollution and can be deployed around the world. It is capable of extracting 50,000 kg of trash per day – even reaching 100,000 kg per day under optimized conditions.

Four Interceptors™ have been built to-date; two systems are already operational in Jakarta (Indonesia) and Klang (Malaysia). A third system is in Vietnam to be installed in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam), while the fourth is destined to be deployed in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). In addition to these locations, Thailand has signed up to deploy an Interceptor™ near Bangkok, and further agreements are nearing completion including one in LA County (USA), kick-starting the scale-up.

A scalable and affordable solution to address a global problem
As part of The Ocean Cleanup’s research to map the problem, it was established that 1,000 of the world’s 100,000 rivers (1%) are responsible for roughly 80 percent of the garbage entering the oceans – yes Pareto’s 80/20 principle is alive and thriving still, although even more extreme in this example! The product of their global scientific measurement and modeling efforts has been visualized in an interactive map that is accessible here.

The Ocean Cleanup Interceptor™ is environmentally friendly and 100 percent solar-powered, with onboard lithium-ion batteries that enable it to operate day and night without any noise or exhaust fumes. The system is anchored to the riverbed to utilize the natural flow of the river to catch the plastic and is designed for 24/7 autonomous operation, removing the need for dangerous manual work. Its floating barrier that is used to direct the garbage into the system only spans part of the river; it will not interfere with other vessels and does not harm the safety, nor impede the movement of wildlife – critical requirements when operating in major rivers. An internet-connected onboard computer monitors the system’s performance, energy usage, and component health.

The Ocean Cleanup publicly presented these plans and unveiled the Interceptor™ 004 at a live-streamed event in the Port of Rotterdam. At the start of October, The Ocean Cleanup announced it was successfully capturing and collecting plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with its System 001/B, a cleanup system that is currently undergoing continued performance testing at sea.

Boyan Slat, CEO and Founder of The Ocean Cleanup
Boyan Slat, CEO and Founder of The Ocean Cleanup

About Boyan Slat
In 2011, at age 16, Slat came across more plastic than fish while diving in Greece. He decided to devote a high school project for deeper investigation into ocean plastic pollution and why it was considered impossible to clean up. He later came up with the idea to build a passive system, using the circulating ocean currents to his advantage, which he presented at a TEDx talk in Delft in 2012.

In 2013, Boyan Slat founded the non-profit entity The Ocean Cleanup, of which he is now the CEO. The group’s mission is to develop advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. It raised US$2.2 million through a crowd funding campaign with the help of 38,000 donors from 160 countries. In June 2014, the Ocean Cleanup published a 528-page feasibility study about the project’s potential. Oceanographers Kim Martini and Miriam Goldstein declared the concept infeasible in a technical critique of the feasibility study on the Deep Sea News website, which was cited by other publications. The Guardian reported that as of March 2016, the Ocean Cleanup was continuing to test and refine the concept. The first and second missions both discovered failures with the system, but a third mission in 2019 showed that it can collect plastic.

In November 2014, Boyan Slat was awarded the Champions of the Earth award of the United Nations Environment Programme. HM King Harald of Norway awarded Boyan Slat the Young Entrepreneur Award in 2015. Forbes included Boyan Slat in their 2016 “30 under 30” list In 2016. He was selected as a Thiel Fellow, the program started in 2011 by venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. It gives $100,000 to entrepreneurs 22 years old and younger who have left or postponed college to work on their start-up. In February 2017, Reader’s Digest appointed Slat European of the Year, and the Dutch magazine Elsevier awarded him Nederlander van het Jaar 2017 (Dutchman of the Year 2017). In 2018, Slat was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci International Art Award and Euronews award “European Entrepreneur of the Year”.

This industry needs more young entrants with an entrepreneurial streak such as Boyan Slat’s. It is for his vision and entrepreneurial spirit that IIMS has marked Boyan Slat out as one to watch in the 2020s.

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