“Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit.” This might have been the motto of the young inventors, Ashton Cofer, and his team when they made their groundbreaking invention- turning styrofoam waste into a purifying agent!
The brilliant minds of Ashton, Luke, and Julia proved to the world how someone with a determined heart can make everything possible.
The promising invention of Ashton and his team was inspired when his teammate, Luke Clay, and his family were on a trip to Central America. The young student and his family were surprised upon seeing the beaches filled with filthy styrofoam wastes.
On that fateful day, Luke and his family learned that just as how some plastic wastes take a long time to decompose, styrofoams take 500 years for it to break down. Due to the expensive cost recycling styrofoams entails, 25% of its production always end up in landfills.
“It was overwhelming,” Luke who is now 16-years-old shared with Scientific American. “What it told me was that governments make no priority to dispose of the stuff.”
Every year America produces and consumes around 25 billions of styrofoam cups. Recycling styrofoams are very costly, thus these styrofoam products which we only use for a few minutes end up on the ocean and landfills for 5 centuries.
Perhaps you are wondering why we cannot simply reuse and recycle styrofoams as easy as we do with plastics. The answer lies in the fact that prior to Ashton and his team’s invention, there is no reasonable way of recycling styrofoam products. Also, we must take into consideration the fact that styrofoams are potentially contaminated, thus it is very unhygienic to be recycled.
As a solution to this alarming issue, Ashton together with Luke Clay and Julia Bray thought of a brilliant way of repurposing styrofoams. Rather than completely eliminating the use of styrofoam products, the brilliant minds of these kids decided to turn this waste problem into a solution.
“What if we could keep using Styrofoam and keep benefiting from its cheap, lightweight, insulating and excellent packing ability, without damaging the environment?” Ashton and his innovative team decided to use the carbon present in the polystyrene or styrofoam in creating activated carbon. Activated carbon is an agent used in filtering water and even air.
“I and my team have thought of using the carbon that’s already in polystyrene to create activated carbon, which is used in almost every water filters because thanks to the small micropores the coal is able to filter out contaminants from water or even air” Ashton explained during his TED talk.
“We kept trying and failing, trying and failing. We were so ready to give up but then it happened… With the right temperatures, times, and chemicals, we finally got that successful test result.” Ashton recounted the struggles he and his teammates faced.
The young innovator even recalled an incident in which they were getting poor results from various tests. There was even a time that Ashton’s dad’s grill was caught on fire. Yet the three innovators did not let their heart faint from their failures. And after 50 hours of laboratory work, the team successfully extracted carbon from the styrofoam.
“We did it! We have created activated carbon from Styrofoam waste for purifying water and we were also able to reduce Styrofoam waste, solving two global problems with just one solution.” Ashton beamed proudly.
The groundbreaking invention of the three brilliant minds received overwhelming support and funding from different associations and organizations. The three young inventors and their investors are filing for a full patent as well.
Since their revolutionary invention, the brilliant minds of Ashton, Luke, and Julia have been awarded various honorable recognition from different award-giving bodies. Last 2016, the team won Innovators Award at the Google Science Fair. They also received an award from the US Navy.
The young innovators were able to accomplish two great feats with their invention. First, they effectively thought of a way of repurposing styrofoams without too much cost; and second, they could potentially help more than 2.1 billion people who do not have access to a clean and drinkable water.
“Not only were we able to create activated carbon for purifying water but we were also able to reduce styrofoam waste, solving two global problems with just one solution,” Ashton added.
“We took a problem that many people said was impossible and we made it possible.” Thanks to the dedication and determination of these three brilliant inventors, we are one step closer to saving our environment!
Watch the video of Ashton below and learn more about his and his team’s cutting-edge invention!
Photos and Video | TED