MIT entrepreneurs think globally, act locally | MIT News

Born and raised amid the normal elegance of the Dominican Republic, Andrés Bisonó León feels a deep commitment to assistance clear up a dilemma that has been threatening the Caribbean island nation’s tourism industry, its overall economy, and its men and women.

As Bisonó León discussed with his prolonged-time good friend and mentor, the Walter M. May well and A. Hazel May well Professor of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) Alexander Slocum Sr., ugly mats of toxic sargassum seaweed have been encroaching on the Dominican Republic’s pristine beach locations and other beach locations in the Caribbean region, and public and private businesses have fought a dropping fight applying high priced, environmentally detrimental strategies to cleanse it up. Slocum, who was on the U.S. Section of Energy’s Deepwater Horizon crew, has intensive experience with devices that work in the ocean.

“In the very last 10 decades,” claims Bisonó León, now an MBA prospect in the MIT Sloan College of Management, “sargassum, a harmful seaweed invasion, has cost the Caribbean as significantly as $120 million a 12 months in cleanup and has meant a 30 to 35 p.c tourism reduction, influencing not only the tourism market, but also the setting, maritime everyday living, community economies, and human health and fitness.”

1 of Bisonó León’s conversations with Slocum took area within earshot of MechE alumnus Luke Gray ’18, SM ’20, who had labored with Slocum on other projects and was at the time was about to start off his master’s application.

“Professor Slocum and Andrés transpired to be talking about the sargassum problem in Andrés’ home country,” Grey claims. “A 7 days later on I was on a aircraft to the DR to obtain sargassum samples and study the problem in Punta Cana. When I returned, my master’s software was underway, and I by now had my thesis undertaking!”

Grey also experienced commenced a working partnership with Bisonó León, which each say proceeded seamlessly appropriate from the to start with moment.

“I sense that Luke correct absent recognized the magnitude of the challenge and the benefit we could make in the Dominican Republic and across the Caribbean by teaming up,” Bisonó León suggests.

Equally Bisonó León and Gray also say they felt a obligation to function toward encouraging the international atmosphere.

“All of my main assignments up right up until now have associated devices for weather restoration and/or adaptation,” states Gray.

The systems Bisonó León and Grey arrived at immediately after 18 months of R&D ended up built to present alternatives each domestically and globally.

Their Littoral Collection Module (LCM) skims sargassum seaweed off the area of the water with nets that can be mounted on any boat. The unit sits across the boat, with two huge hoops keeping the nets open, one on each facet. As the boat travels forward, it cuts by way of the seaweed, which flows to the sides of the vessel and by the hoops into the nets. Productive at sweeping the seaweed from the h2o, the unit can be used by any one with a boat, such as nearby fishermen whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the seaweed’s detrimental effect on tourism and the area financial state.

The sargassum can then be towed out to sea, exactly where Bisonó León’s and Gray’s next engineering can occur into engage in. By pumping the seaweed into really deep drinking water, where by it then sinks to the bottom of the ocean, the carbon in the seaweed can be sequestered. Other approaches for disposing of the seaweed typically require putting it into landfills, exactly where it emits greenhouse gases this kind of as methane and carbon dioxide as it breaks down. Although some seaweed can be set to other works by using, like as fertilizer, sargassum has been observed to have tough-to-remove harmful substances these types of as arsenic and significant metals.

In spring 2020, Bisonó León and Gray fashioned a enterprise, SOS (Sargassum Ocean Sequestration) Carbon.

Bisonó León claims he comes from a very long line of entrepreneurs who frequently expressed much dedication to social impact. His loved ones has been associated in numerous diverse industries, his grandfather and great uncles obtaining opened the 1st cigar manufacturing facility in the Dominican Republic in 1903.

Gray states internships with startup firms and the undergraduate jobs he did with Slocum designed his fascination in entrepreneurship, and his involvement with the sargassum trouble only bolstered that inclination. During his master’s plan, he says he turned “obsessed” with locating a answer.

“Professor Slocum let me feel extremely huge, and so it was pretty much inevitable that the distillation of our two decades of get the job done would continue on in some sort, and setting up a firm transpired to be the suitable route. My master’s knowledge of getting an in essence untouched dilemma like sargassum and then one particular calendar year later planning, setting up, and sending 15,000 lbs of custom equipment to test for 3 months on a Dominican Navy ship designed me realize I had learned a recipe I could repeat — and device design experienced grow to be my core competency,” Grey suggests.

During the initial investigate and improvement of their systems, Bisonó León and Gray lifted $258,000 from 20 various corporations. Amongst June and December 2021, they succeeded in getting rid of 3.5 million pounds of sargassum and secured contracts with Grupo Puntacana, which operates various tourist resorts, and with other accommodations these types of as Club Med in Punta Cana. The corporation subcontracts with the association of fishermen in Punta Cana, employing 15 fishermen who function LCMs and teaching 35 other individuals to join as the procedure expands.

Their achievement so much demonstrates “’mens et manus’ at get the job done,” says Slocum, referring to MIT’s motto, which is Latin for “mind and hand.” “Geeks listen to about a extremely serious dilemma that affects incredibly genuine persons who have no other solution for their livelihoods, and they react by inventing a answer so stylish that it can be readily deployed by these most harm by the challenge to address the problem.

“The staff was constantly focused on the figures, from physics to finance, and did not enable hoopla or uncertainties discourage their perseverance to rationally address this massive trouble.”

Slocum says he could predict Bisonó León and Grey would operate properly together “because they commenced out as good, good persons with complementary abilities whose hearts and minds have been in the suitable location.”

“We are working on possessing a global affect to cut down tens of millions of tons of CO2 for every calendar year,” claims Bisonó León. “With instruction from Sloan and cross-disciplinary collaborative spirit, we will be able to even further develop environmental and social influence platforms a lot essential in the Caribbean to be able to push authentic modify regionally and globally.”

“I hope SOS Carbon can serve as a design and encourage equivalent entrepreneurial efforts,” Gray suggests.

Eleanore Beatty

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