TedX-Styro-FilterA process of recycling expanded polystyrene for use as a filter medium was the subject of a recent TED talk. But the presenter was a bit younger than your typical plastics recycling executive.

Ashton Cofer, one of four teens from Ohio who developed the patent-pending process, spoke during a six-minute presentation published online this month. He presented at a December 2016 event put on by the New York City-based nonprofit group TED, which helps spread ideas via on-stage talks.

The four youths won thousands of dollars in multiple high-profile contests for their research. They developed a process through which EPS is recycled into activated carbon with a surface area of 108 square meters per gram of material.

In the process, foam is first densified by heating at 300 degrees celsius for five hours. Then, it’s broken into smaller pieces and bathed in phosphoric acid, which creates micropores. Lastly, the material is again heated to 400 degrees celsius for five hours. The material is then used in what the teens are calling the Styro-Filter.

The youths won the 2016 FLL Global Innovation Award presented by XPrize, which brought them a $20,000 award.

They also earned a STEM-in-Action grant through a competition called eCYBERMISSION, which is sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams winning those awards receive up to $5,000. A project write-up for that event includes details on their trials and the recycling process.

Additionally, the team won the Scientific American Innovator Award from the Google Science Fair competition. That award provided a $15,000 scholarship, to be split among the four teammates.

Plastics Recycling Update wrote about the team and its research when it was a Google Science Fair finalist.


Sorema Sebright