September 23, 2023

The Boston Globe

Alex Berkowitz, founder and CEO of Coastal Safety Options, visited the Harborwalk in Boston. Berkowitz’s firm is engaged on constructing Wavebreakers, constructions that act like a wave pace bump to lower the peak and velocity of harmful waves. Erin Clark/Globe Employees

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy ripped by Alex Berkowitz’s hometown of Rockaway Seaside in Queens, N.Y.

Her group, a thriving neighborhood the place youngsters performed on the road and the aged walked their canines, was all of the sudden coated in grey silt.

“It was a distinction of night time and day,” she recalled. “I bear in mind considering, I by no means need anybody to ever expertise this.”

Eleven years later, her concept that fashioned within the aftermath of the storm has germinated into an organization that goals to guard coastal areas from devastating storm surge. Berkowitz based Coastal Safety Options, an organization engaged on constructing Wavebreakers: constructions floating offshore that act like a wave pace bump to lower the peak and velocity of harmful waves. She runs the corporate herself and has raised cash from Harvard Innovation Labs in addition to personal funders. She wouldn’t disclose the entire quantity raised.

The thought of a wave-dampening equipment is just not new, however what’s new is the aim and the size of the Wavebreaker. Floating breakwaters right this moment are primarily used for lakes and marinas, whereas this construction is particularly constructed for the ocean and is for use for climate-aggravated hurricanes and storms.

“For the final 70 years, the world has been centered on concrete boundaries like concrete partitions, which aren’t sustainable and price thousands and thousands of {dollars} and years to construct,” Berkowitz stated. “Conventional strategies are out of date, and we have to suppose out of the field if we’re going to proceed to dwell on the coast sooner or later.”

For those who had simply checked out Berkowitz’s résumé 4 years in the past, it could be exhausting to imagine that somebody with a bachelor’s diploma in visible arts — and no background in engineering in any respect — would design a know-how that has the potential to guard whole swaths of susceptible coastal communities. However her private expertise — significantly the sensation of shock after her group was hit by Hurricane Sandy — has been fueling her ardour to maintain going.

“I had a really sturdy imaginative and prescient for what it must be,” she stated. “I began modeling it in a 3D mannequin software program and did exams in my bathtub with [3D-printed] fashions.”

Wavebreakers are constructed particularly for the ocean, for use for climate-aggravated hurricanes and storms. – LIZ VAN DYKE

As for her lack of expertise as an engineer or biologist?

“I remind myself that Thomas Edison didn’t have any formal coaching or training in engineering,” Berkowitz stated. “It was a mixture of instinct and iteration that drove him to world-changing innovations.”

She utilized to a grasp’s program at the Harvard Graduate Faculty of Design together with her thought in 2018. Throughout her time there, with the steerage of a number of engineers, enterprise specialists, architects, and biologists, Berkowitz was in a position to design the Wavebreaker. Final yr, she utilized to hitch the Harvard Innovation Labs and shortly after she gained the Harvard President’s Innovation Award. She additionally visited the Netherlands final summer time to tour flood-protection websites and met with Delft College of Know-how specialists and different leaders in coastal flood mitigation.

Up to now, Coastal Safety Options has designed the know-how — 300-foot extensive rotating cylinders, half submerged in water — and can start testing its first prototype this fall at a flume facility on the College of Oregon. The constructions require no energy, as an alternative function utilizing easy mechanical rules. When a big wave hits the Wavebreaker, the construction bears the brunt of the wave, which rolls over the grooves and panels of the construction, in the end dissipating the wave. The know-how is patent-pending.

Rebekah Emanuel, the top of Harvard’s Entrepreneurship Circle, stated that Coastal Safety Options has enormous potential due to the constructions’ low price and applicability. Every is estimated to price $80,000, with a yearly upkeep payment various on the scale of the set up. For a metropolis like Boston, that payment could be roughly $50,000. That’s considerably cheaper than different measures of flood mitigation like The Massive U mission in New York ($1.5 billion) or the 20-foot-tall sea wall in Miami ($6 billion).

“Adaptation is just not a simple space to work in,” Emanuel stated. “Alex’s resolution is type of unimaginable as a result of it’s orders of magnitude cheaper, you’ll be able to manufacture it rapidly, you’ll be able to deploy it rapidly, and one of many issues that I feel matter probably the most is you can transfer it to new areas across the coast as dangers change.”

Emanuel additionally highlighted how Berkowitz’s expertise equips her to method these issues from a contemporary angle.

“She is a lady in a discipline that historically has only a few ladies,” she stated. “She brings a really cross-sector set of insights and views. She’s not interested by it simply as an engineer or simply as a municipal planner, or simply as an environmentalist.”

Wavebreakers act like a wave pace bump to lower the peak and velocity of harmful waves. – LIZ VAN DYKE

Harvard Entrepreneurship Circle’s 2023 cohort, which incorporates Berkowitz, has two-thirds of its groups led by ladies or folks of colour. That variety issues, Emanuel defined, when local weather options are designed to assist folks throughout cultures and nations.

Berkowitz envisions her main prospects to be municipalities who’re investing in defending their coastal areas. For now, she is starting to succeed in out to state and native governments in coastal New England about putting in the Wavebreaker alongside their coastlines. Berkowitz has additionally been invited to current her mission on the Clinton International Initiative later this month.

“I really feel that we’re at a crucial time in human historical past the place we have now performed a lot injury to the planet that a few of that’s irreversible,” she stated. “However it’s as much as people to give you options so we are able to proceed to dwell with a semblance of normalcy. Now could be the time to suppose large.”

And large this mission can be. Her plan is to start putting in the know-how alongside the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, after which broaden abroad to coastal areas in Asia and West Africa. Berkowitz envisions Coastal Safety Options sometime defending a 3rd of worldwide coastlines, putting in roughly 2.2 million Wavebreakers. She doesn’t suppose these are formidable targets for a construction that has but to be examined, as a result of local weather change turns into an much more pressing downside with each passing day.

“We plan to be operational in 2024 with three cities,” Berkowitz stated. “By 2028 we can be in 60 cities, and by 2032 we need to be the worldwide chief in flooding discount.”

Coastal Safety Options additionally goals to combine a technique to seize wave power into the Wavebreakers, successfully making them a twin goal machine: dissipating sturdy waves and producing clear power.

Chris Ross, the operations supervisor on the Mooring Lab on the Woods Gap Oceanographic Institute met Berkowitz when she launched her proposal to him in 2019. He says he was instantly struck by her ardour.

“I feel it has potential, and it looks as if I’m not the one individual believing that, with the sort of help she has acquired,” he stated. “It appears as if there’s an opportunity that this might actually work out nicely.”

Alex Berkowitz, founder and CEO of Coastal Safety Options, poses for a portrait on the Harborwalk. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF