The small Southeast Asian nation of East Timor wants to be the world's first plastic-neutral nation by recycling all its waste plastic with the help of an Australian-invented technology.
The technology, a catalytic hydrothermal reactor (Cat-HTR), was invented at the University of Sydney by professors Thomas Maschmeyer and Len Humphreys.
The pair founded Sydney-based Licella Holdings Ltd. to commercialize the technology and Humphreys is now its CEO.
East Timor has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a US$40 million Cat-HTR recycling plant.
Humphreys said Cat-HTR is highly efficient to recycle "virtually all plastic waste."
"Cat-HTR is much better equipped to handle plastic waste than current systems as it converts all types of plastic waste in only 20 minutes. This has multiple benefits, such as reduced costs for waste producers due to materials re-use, reduced landfill and less plastic in our oceans," he said.
Licella's reactor uses water at near supercritical temperatures to convert waste into high-value liquids, which can be used to produce plastics, fuel or other chemicals.
East Timor generates about 70 metric tons of plastic waste a day. Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, the country's secretary of state for the environment, said one Cat-HTR plant has the potential to convert East Timor's entire plastic waste stream into petrochemicals.
Licella's discussions with the East Timor government started in December and agreement was reached in early April.
Licella has licensed Mura Technology Ltd., a joint venture between Licella and London-based Armstrong Energy Ltd., to apply the Cat-HTR platform worldwide outside Australia and New Zealand. Mura waived its license and royalty fees and the East Timor government agreed to facilitate the project with land and supporting logistics.
Abel Guterres, East Timor's ambassador to Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Fiji, told ABC Radio that plastic water bottles are a major problem in his country.
"People use a lot of plastic, they have no choice, they buy bottled water. [East Timor is] a young, developing country and we need time to build the infrastructure for clean water," he said.
Guterres said East Timor is "on the right course" to be plastics neutral by 2030.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975, when it declared independence and was immediately taken over by Indonesia. It fought for independence until 1999 when Indonesia relinquished control. With United Nations assistance it became a sovereign state in 2002. Indonesia still controls the western half of the Timor Island, which is 1,200 miles north of Australia.