Timor-Leste aims to become world's first plastics-neutral country

17 May 2019
University spin-out company Licella will use catalytic technology developed by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer as part of global consortium to donate plastics recycling plant to the people of Timor-Leste.

Recycling solution for Timor-Leste

The Government of Timor-Leste has today signed a memorandum of understanding at the University of Sydney with Mura Technology for the development of a $US40 million chemical recycling plant that will allow Timor-Leste to become the first 'plastics-neutral' economy in the world.

Mura will assist in establishing the chemical recycling plant via a new not-for-profit organisation, RESPECT, at no cost to the people of Timor-Leste. All financial surpluses from the plant will be returned to support community initiatives, as well as developing livelihoods for waste collectors.

Timor-Leste’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, said: "This is an exciting collaboration for us. Not only will it make a big difference in plastic waste reduction and reduce harm to our cherished marine life, but Timor-Leste can be an example to the rest of the world about what this technology can achieve and the benefits it will have for the planet."

The breakthrough chemical recycling technology developed in Australia is called the Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (or Cat-HTR). The Cat-HTR platform is being commercialised by Licella Holdings, a start-up co-founded by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer of the University of Sydney and Dr Len Humphreys, Licella CEO.

Mura, which developed the agreement with Timor-Leste, is a joint venture between Licella Holdings and Armstrong Energy of the UK. Plastic Oceans UK has recently signed a memorandum of collaboration with Mura.

The new plant in Timor-Leste will allow for the creation of a circular economy for plastic waste for the benefit of Timor-Leste and the environment. The not-for-profit organisation RESPECT will serve as a model for how developing countries worldwide can tackle plastic waste issues.

With global plastic production exceeding 300 million tonnes each year, the Cat-HTR technology can provide a chemical recycling solution to avoid plastic waste ending up in our oceans, soils, incinerators and landfill.

Dr Len Humphreys, co-founder and CEO of Licella Holdings, said the MoU with Timor-Leste is significant as the Cat-HTR is a highly efficient technology that can handle virtually all plastic waste.

"Cat-HTR is much better equipped to handle plastic waste than the current systems in place as it converts all types of plastic waste into high-value products in only 20 minutes," Dr Humphreys said. "This has multiple benefits, such as the reduction in costs for waste producers due to materials re-use, reduced landfill and less plastic in our oceans."

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

Professor Thomas Maschmeyer.

Professor Maschmeyer, Cat-HTR co-inventor, said: "Cat-HTR is something of which we are very proud. We are thrilled to be involved in this project with our partners to provide this technology to Timor-Leste, where it will have a huge and positive impact."

The Government of Timor-Leste welcomed the partnership with Mura to help deal with the estimated 70 tonnes of plastic waste generated in-country each day. Just one Cat-HTR plant has the potential to convert Timor-Leste’s entire plastic waste stream into valuable petrochemicals, which can enable operations to be self-sustaining.

It could also allow Timor-Leste to become the first 'plastic-neutral' country in the world. This means that no used plastics will enter the environment as waste but will instead be recycled into new products. This will eliminate waste plastic with its associated damage to the environment and impacts to human health.

Jo Ruxton, CEO of Plastic Oceans Foundation UK, said: "This will be a really valuable program, not just for the people of Timor-Leste, but also to share the knowledge and technologies to other countries and islands globally, as we tackle ocean plastic pollution."

Alongside Mr De Carvalho, special guests His Excellency Mr Abel Guterres, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Timor-Leste to Australia, New Zealand and Republic of Fiji and Mr Helio Casimiro Guterres, President of the Institute of Petroleum and Geology in Timor will attend the signing at the University of Sydney. The event is hosted by the University’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence.

Dr Spence said: "This partnership encapsulates a core mission of our university: to provide leadership for good. It is fabulous that such innovative technology that we have supported across campus in a truly multi-disciplinary way for more than 10 years will give a direct benefit to the people of Timor-Leste."

Unlearning waste

About Cat-HTR

Cat-HTR is a patented hydrothermal upgrading technology, which uses water under high temperature and pressure, to chemically recycle waste plastic (including plastic currently deemed non-recyclable) back into oil (from which it originally came). This synthetic oil can be used to produce new plastic, fuels and chemicals - reducing waste and creating a new source of revenue.


Discussions with the Government of Timor-Leste were started in December 2018 to explore ways to implement ground-breaking technology to help with the country’s plastic-waste problem. An agreement was reached in early April to create a not-for-profit entity called RESPECT (Recycling. Environment. Social. Plastic. Empowerment. Community. Timor).  

Mura agreed to waive its licence and royalty fees and the Government of Timor-Leste agreed to facilitate the project with land and supporting logistics in collaboration with local communities.

Mura Technology Limited is a joint venture between Licella Holdings of Australia and Armstrong Energy of the UK and headed by Director Richard Chamberlayne. Established in the UK in February 2019, MURA intends to apply the Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (CAT-HTR) platform worldwide outside Australia and New Zealand. The innovative technology is capable of chemical recycling of end-of-life plastics back to a range of chemical products, facilitating a circular economy in the chemical plastics industry and creating value from plastic waste.

The technology was developed by Licella co-founders, Professor Thomas Maschmeyer and Dr Len Humphreys and has received assistance from University of Sydney research and development initiatives.

Mura Technology Limited is currently working with the Government of Timor-Leste to implement of this project to create the world’s first plastic neutral economy.

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