TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A young Taiwanese woman has co-invented a new way to clean up microplastics in the ocean, founded a company around it, and delivered a speech sharing her experience at the United Nations.
At the age of 22, Alice Hung (洪以柔) has already set up the world’s first social enterprise that specializes in eliminating microplastics, Micro PC, according to Business Today. She and her team developed a microplastic filter collector that is low-cost, non-consumable, and uses no excess energy consumption.
Hung’s startup partnered with Silicon Valley accelerator Plug&Play in 2018 and won an award. The following year, she was invited to share her startup experience on behalf of Taiwan at a UN conference in New York.
Once microscopic balls of plastic have absorbed enough toxins, they sink to the ocean floor where it is much harder to clean them up. The team’s invention filters them out while they are still light enough to float on the water’s surface.
Her startup partner and chief technical officer, engineer Jeff Chiu (邱申富), said it was very difficult to meet Hung’s demands for such an eco-friendly design at first. Chiu said he tested 20 different prototypes, all of which failed, and he felt like giving up.
Yet eventually, after collaborating with chemical engineering researchers, they came up with something that worked: a small device that moves around the water’s surface like a toy propeller boat, collecting beads as it goes.
Micro PC’s prototype can currently catch about 80% of the microplastics in the water it filters, said Hung. After cruising for about one hour, it can collect anywhere between 2,000 and 50,000 microplastic beads per liter of water.
Hung’s passion for cleaning up microplastics began in university when she did a research project on the topic. This led her to wonder why no one was doing anything about the problem.
According to the latest research by the U.K.’s National Oceanographic Centre, the Atlantic Ocean alone contains at least 200 million tons of microplastics. These numbers gave Hung a shock. “So I made up my mind. I was going to do something about it,” she said.
"I used to think about throwing plastic particles into the fish tank to see if my fish would die if they ate them,” adds Hung. “But we actually eat things every day that even my fish don't want to eat."
Hung said it is difficult to communicate how widespread and serious the issue is when microplastics remain invisible to the human eye. However, she uses a useful comparison: noting the public’s concern about air pollution, she describes microplastics as the “particulate matter (PM2.5) of the water.”
In the future, Hung hopes to cooperate with the government to introduce filtration technology into large-scale public facilities so that these microplastics can be intercepted before they get discharged into the sea.
Hung said she did not care about microplastics before simply because she was unaware of the problem. She emphasized the importance of education, saying the next generation should be taught about the importance of marine ecosystems and the threats they face.