Turning plastics into Fuel
Licella, founded and run by organic chemist Dr Len Humphreys has receive a $12 million government grant to help build a plastic recycling plant at Dow Chemical in Altona, Victoria.
They have also receive a $5 million commitment from The Department of Defence to build a factory in north Queensland to turn sugar cane waste into biocrude, which can be made into aviation fuel.
Licella is a University of Sydney spin-off and supported by some big global packaging including Dow Chemicals, Chevron, LG Chemicals and KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root) and about 500 shareholders.
The pain – plastics – a wicked problem
Fossil fuel, and the plastic that is made from oil are wonderfully useful products .
It was in the 1950s, when Mr McGuire told Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) , in the film The Graduate, “I want to say one word to you, just one word – plastics”
the manufacture of plastics produces greenhouse gases and the stuff doesn’t rot.
Not only is plastic waste filling up the world’s oceans and choking marine wildlife, micro-plastics are getting into everything.
Samples taken from the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic have come back “riddled with” synthetic micro-plastic fibres, and last month reported that micro-plastics had been found in human breast milk for the first time.
What it does – painkiller 1 -Plastics
Licella uses heat and water to turn plastic and biomass into oil and fuel. It’s all about turning plastic back into oil so it can be easily turned back into food-grade recycled plastic, which means the plastic can be infinitely recycled.
Alan Kohler suggests that this invention could be one of the great hopes of mankind.
The process for which it has global patents turns plastic back into oil, and biomass (plant waste) into fuels.
The first commercial plastic-to-oil plant will be in Wilton in the north of England, also in partnership with Dow. It will start operating in March next year.
There are now six projects underway using the technology: LG Chemicals, GS Caltex and Hyundai are building plants in South Korea, Mitsubishi Chemicals in Japan and Dow Chemicals in Germany, as well as the ones planned for the UK and Altona.
Painkiller 2 – turning Food waste into aviation fuel
The other important use of the invention is for turning biomass into fuel, specifically sustainable aviation fuel.
The pressure is on airline companies to reduce their carbon footprint, and it will be a long time before battery-powered planes are flying around, although Rolls Royce is testing a hydrogen-powered jet engine at the moment.
Queensland’s sugar industry produces about four million tonnes of cane waste per year, which Dr Humphreys says would power most, if not all of Qantas’s fleet.
It was in 2005, when Len was working on biodiesel (turning leftover vegetable oil into diesel ) , when he met Professor Thomas Maschmeyer of the University of Sydney . Together they came up with what they call the Cat-HTR process – which stands for catalytic hydrothermal reactor.
It uses heat and water to liquify solids, such as plastic, and plant material.
The two chemists built their first pilot plant in 2008, in Somersby on the NSW central coast.
and have been working successfully with Nestle to use KitKat wrappers, which combine metal and plastic, to produce Australia’s first soft plastic food wrapper with recycled content.
Professor Maschmeyer won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in 2020, partly for the plastic recycling process, but also for his work on zinc bromide batteries for storing renewable energy.