Waste Plastic to Oil with Andrew Sinclair
We spoke to Andrew Sinclair from GTM Trash Management about setting up a pyrolysis reactor on Lombok, Indonesia
Welcome to the Pristine Ocean podcast. I’m Peter hall. In the podcast you will hear from people around the world fighting the scourge of marine plastic litter.
The company revolves around this idea that we can turn the plastic into something with value, so that at the moment it’s not of any value to anyone. So if we can put a price on it and turn it into a resource for the local people, you can’t change people’s mindsets over this sort of stuff. You need to change the the plastic.
Before the age of modern chemistry, alchemists dreamt of turning lead into gold.
In the age of plastic waste, the new alchemists dream of turning old shoes into black gold.
A process that converts waste plastic into oil. This is the promise of pyrolysis.
Although the chemistry of pyrolysis is well understood, the commercial application is still in its early days.
Entrepreneurs are asking the question can we make money out of pyrolysis while preventing plastic from destroying the environment?
Can pyrolysis be the solution to the plastic waste crisis?
I talked to one entrepreneur who is launched, a pyrolysis demonstrator on Lombok, an island in Indonesia.
He and his team have set up a pyrolysis reactor. The Will digest one tonne of plastic waste per day and convert this into oil.
This oil can be further distilled to diesel.
On May the 29th, 2021, to great fanfare and with many dignitaries, his pyrolysis demonstrator was fired up and started devouring plastic waste.
The aim of the demonstrator is to convince investors to get aboard.
What seemed like an overnight success was years of toil and trouble in the making.
The story starts in Tasmania, Australia.
Andrew Sinclair grew up there. He learned to work with machinery large and small, worked in different industries in Australia and in Southeast Asia before setting up a yacht chartering company with his wife Katrina in Malaysia.
A key moment was when Andrew and Katarina landed on a remote island.
Yeah, so there’s an island called Cotera tell it’s actually where they shot the first Survivor Series, so there’s really nothing on that island at all apart from another broadcast station that’s now over.
They just left it behind and.
You wouldn’t know it because it’s yeah, so it’s just a pristine beach with the with Crystal Clearwater, Anna Jungle right behind it an you know when you’ve got a place like that all to yourself, it’s just. It’s one of those experiences in life that you.
You know you really thank God that you’re alive and.
When we walked along this beach from the high tide mark, right up into the jungle is about 2 1/2 feet deep with just plastics.
A remote, pristine beach with piles of plastic.
You can shake your head and wonder where it all came from and then just try and forget about it. Or you can take action.
They decided they couldn’t just remain observers to the problem they wanted to do something to make an impact. They started brainstorming ideas. What they could do with their yacht charter background.
The first idea that they tried was to try a type of luxury beach cleanup by having guests pay to clean up the beaches.
Initially our idea would be to like sort of, start some sort of holiday package where you could come and camp on one of these beaches where we’re going to set up her glamping top of an idea which involves sailing as well, so we’d sail them around so it would be like a sailing slash glamping type of type of deal and.
And we would work on.
One beach at a time and go from one beach and just clean the entire place up using landing barges and quad bikes and Anna bit of manpower and and try and make it fun and something that people get get involved with and.
You know that that was something that we explored initially, and then you know that was like Oh well.
What are you gonna do with it all? Once you got it like you’re going to take it?
To a landfill somewhere.
Landfills are easy to set up and are the only option in many places.
Badly managed landfills provide breeding grounds for disease carrying insects. They attract wildlife that eat the plastic.
End allow toxins to leak into the groundwater.
Well managed landfills. Well, they just fill up fast.
Andrews Focus moved from cleaning up the plastic to finding a disposal solution that did not involve landfill.
He imagined the machine that would eat the plastic.
Because we wanted we wanted like a final solution, you know, like the ultimate solution to clicking around online looking at different things and the pyrolysis thing comes up.
When the pyrolysis thing came up, Andrew and Katarina thought this might be the answer that they were looking for.
They found a reference to a pyrolysis reactor. It would eat 1 tonne of plastic and produce between 500 and 700 litres of oil.
They made a trip to China to speak to the manufacturers.
Yeah, we went and saw them. They have an amazing workshop.
This was in China, but they didn’t have a. They didn’t have a unit operational, they were just building this stuff, so we said that’s OK.
So where is it you know? Can we see it and actually right in Thailand where we where we were, there was a guy running these machines.
They visited a working pyrolysis reactor in Thailand.
That’s where they struck gold. Not only were they able to see a working installation, but they found a mentor in an area where they were both novices.
He’s been a real inspiration for us, and he’s been a real teacher for us. You know, he’s one of those guys that doesn’t hold back and you know he.
There’s a few things he won’t tell us, but actually he’s told us pretty much everything we know.
They were now convinced that this was going to be the project that they would sink all their time and energies into for the next years.
They also knew that they would have to dig into their own pockets to finance it.
We started to build the business plan. We got real stats on on what the output is. We started looking at the fuel sale prices or labour costs we were doing this while we were living on the boat and we were anchored off Langkawi which is in between Thailand and Malaysia and just really like.
I think we spent about a year and a half on this business plan and looking at different other things we could mix in an.
And then we did go to the government, there in Langkawi and start talking about it and they they had a bit of an attitude about what we were doing and they didn’t like the fact that we were expats coming in about this an actually there. The waste management is already privately owned and operated by some some pretty heavy dudes.
So we will just like.
Yeah, there will be an up and down or whether we should actually do it there.
We started to think about.
Where else would you go? By chance they heard about Lombok, an island in Indonesia, just east of Bali.
Well, yeah, there we will sort of in that mind. OK, we should start to look somewhere else we let’s let’s think about this and then a friend of ours said.
Hey man, are you guys ever been too long? Walk before an I’m not yeah I have it. When I was like 22 was beautiful is like yeah you should go and so we thought why not you know let’s get on the plane and go down there and have a have a look.
Arriving on Lombok, they felt welcome, but more importantly they found an environment that was open to their ideas.
That’s it, we really saw something here that was quite amazing. There’s a lot of people, a lot of action, a lot of you know they have this zero waste campaign that was generated by the vice governor. Here. Lots of beach clean-ups, lots of small waste banks.
That was set up mainly to teach young kids in the community about waste and and why they shouldn’t be throwing their plastic in the river and why you know why? It’s important to to do the right thing and.
Yeah, that’s this movement and I loved it.
Why do you think it was possible for your ideas to take root in Lombok and not somewhere else?
I think it’s like the attitude of the people is like that in Indonesia, where they actually embrace being taught. They love new ideas and they appreciate people coming from anywhere with passion.
They love they love their environment. They love their islands. They’re still very close to the land and the ocean.
They hate this plastic issue that they have and that’s this embarrassment for them. You know when you say to them, look mate, it’s not just you, it’s everywhere in the world and they’re like, oh, really, I thought it was just us, I mean it’s a big issue.
It’s one of the best things about Lombok. It’s people you know they’re so beautiful and
even though they they’ll have nothing, they’ll still want to, you know, share you lunch or invite you to dinner and this kind of thing. It’s just incredibly generous and beautiful.
They moved to Lombok and started planning a pilot installation for the pyrolysis reacted they had seen in China.
But it was a long slog.
It was like a very tough few months.
Trying to figure out where to start because it’s a new sort of company and no one really knew where we should start.
We’re not here to start a hotel. We’re not here to start the franchise company or import cars or anything like that where?
Where we need to do this recycling, which isn’t being done. Then we spent two years figuring out what paperwork we needed to fill out. It was a real like I did. Nobody knows, you know.
On the 29th of May, 2021, the team went live. Since then they are producing oil from the waste plastic. Andrew is already dreaming of a series of 20 tonne machines that will make the operation more profitable.
Well, at the at the moment we have all of our licencing requirements we have building permits were ready to go for the 20 tonne per day facility.
So what we’re doing now is working with the Regency government with the NTB government on a contract agreement.
Where everyone understands who’s doing what.
So for this facility, we’re looking at an investment for $7 million US.
But this this facility also includes the bio digestion units like bioreactors. So with the bio reactors, there will be 250 tonne per day for cardboard, food wastes, organic waste. The idea is that we produce methane from those. Those reactors will be running our electricity and taking our heating fuel from those bioreactors.
So we won’t be using diesel or Petro chemicals to hate the reactors. Will be using methane? Yeah, we’ll be doing good thing by using the methane as a fuel.
How are you going to finance this expansion? Where are you going to get this? Where are the 7 million coming from? Are you going to rely on donations?
Wait, we need it. We need a lot of investment for this and we wouldn’t. We wouldn’t rely on grants and donations.
I guess you have a way of making this not just commercially successful, but will satisfy all the stakeholders.
Yeah, it’s taken us a few years to come up with a business plan and to find the right technology workout some some way so that it’s actually an attractive investment for investors and a good deal for the governments and a good deal for the local people as well.
But the shareholders will want to see profits.
How can you make money out of this?
Because we can turn it into fuel, then we telling the fuel at the local market rate, we make a profit.
Our investors make a profit and they get paid for their plastic, so that’s the essence of the company.
But you won’t be collecting the plastic yourselves. You’ll be paying collectors to bring it to you, right?
So we’re basically opening our doors to anyone who wants to go out and collect the plastic.
Now you are a full profit company, but you’re aiming to create social good.
And what about the trade-offs?
I mean, just because we are for profit company doesn’t mean we can’t be good company. You know, we can’t be a company that does doing something for.
Not just for the shareholders, the whole point of the company is to engage with the community. To create a market so the plastic is got a value.
You have set up a working demonstrator on Lombok.
You’ve attracted the interest of investors. You’ve reached out to NGOs to create a plastic waste collection network.
And you’ve got the government authorities on board with your plans. What’s the vision for the next few?
Years, you know the vision actually is to is to have Lombok clean within two years from now.
So, it’s it looks more like Tasmania.
Andrew, you’ve got all the way from seeing plastic waste on that remote island to breaking out with a commercial organisation that does good in the world. What do you think about that?
That amazes me that that you can start
out with a vision with an idea and it can come to reality. I love that about life to have purpose and to be driven and have your ideas come into reality and it’s really standing there and it’s working like.
Yeah, there’s a sense of achievement, proud moment, and then you just move on because you gotta keep going. You gotta do the next part.
Andrew, thanks for talking today and all the best with his great project.
OK, thank you so much man, that’s really nice.
That was Andrew Sinclair from Geo Trash management.
You can find out more about GTM in the programme notes.
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