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“Out of the Eater Could Come Forth Something to Eat”

Mussie Efriem

Our guest today, Lidia Teklehaymanot, is one of the three Total-Energy’s startupper finalists of 2022 in the ‘best business creation project’ category. Around 90 proposals from all over the country were submitted, and Lidya’s project idea was to develop plastic depolymerization technology for oil production.

  • Please introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a chemical engineer by profession and I am currently working at the Ministry of Land, Water, and Environment as a waste management expert and coordinator of the Basel Convention on the transboundary movements of wastes.

  • Give us an overview of Total Energy’s competition?

Total startupper challenge motivates innovators and supports good ideas and projects that address widespread problems affecting communities all over the world. The projects aim at solving problems and improving the well-being of societies. The competition intends to create a platform for the youth to be creative and generate ideas. The competition takes place in three categories: best business creation project, a young established startup (under 3 years), and best female entrepreneur.

In the ‘business creation project’ category, contestants submit project ideas that have the potential to open up business opportunities for the citizen. The project is supposed to be innovative and has visible economic benefits and sustainability. It should also aim to achieve some of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals of 2030. The young established startup under 3 years old is a practical one, and it requires the submission of the prototype of the planned project. In the ‘best female entrepreneur’ category, the project should focus on addressing women’s challenges and improving their living conditions. And I am a finalist in the ‘best business creation project’ category and won 123, 018 Nakfa.

  • What was your project about?

It’s called plastic thermal depolymerization, a technology that transforms plastic waste products into the oil. The plastic depolymerization project is a technology for breaking down long-chain polymers into monomers for oil production, under the medium of pressurized and heated water. Here, in the plastic recycling process water is the main actor. We use it as a solvent of the plastic materials at its supercritical temperature (from 370-400 Celsius). At this stage, the plastic materials turn into liquid and their vapors move to another tank through a tube, where they turn into condensed oil. Water can also be used as a catalyst to speed up the reaction due to its self-dissociating nature. Once again, water helps to separate the oil into different forms using the light gases as a supply of heat. The light gases are products of water that turn into vapor due to the supercritical temperature. There might be other ways of recycling plastic waste materials and turning them into oil, such as by burning them. But water helps us to do it in a simple way, and the burning of plastic could have harmful effects.

  • What inspired you to come up with that idea?

Globally, plastic waste materials are a hot issue. And, as I mentioned, I am working in the waste management department and am also the coordinator of the transboundary movements of waste materials. Plastic wastes are always making headlines because plastic products, with their very hazardous elements, wouldn’t decay through the biological process for thousands of years. And if they are burned, they could cause additional problems such as air pollution, infertility, and cancer with their harmful gases. However, if we manage plastic waste properly we can address the problems. That’s why I chose as a title for my presentation: “out of the eater could come forth something to eat.” My project idea gives dual advantages: it reduces all the risks associated with disposing of plastic wastes, and it turns the wastes into a valuable product, oil.

  • What benefits will it have?

It has so many benefits. It would play a substantial role in reducing plastic waste materials which are harmful to life. It would help preserve the environment and the well-being of society. And if the plastic waste is separated from the landfill, the organic waste could be used as compost. In terms of economic benefits, plastic waste has 80% efficiency, which means that we can extract 0.8-liter of oil from 1 kg of plastic. In Eritrea, we annually dump 8788 tons of plastic waste. This means we could annually produce 7030 tons of oil from recycled plastic. This is seven times more than the amount of oil the country imports annually. The project will bring about economic growth, create job opportunities, and have a significant role in reducing poverty.

  • Has any practical move been made to get the project going?

It’s still a work in progress. What we now have is a project idea. But I am making preparations to make a prototype in the lab. I have gathered several types of plastic materials such as high-density polyline tires, plastic bottles, and polystyrene polypropylene, syrup containers. I hope I will finish it soon, and Total (the oil company) will give us training. At a national level, the infrastructure for the project will cost around 20 million Nakfa. And the total income from the sale of oil and charcoal would be around 531 million Nakfa. This means the money invested could be recovered within just two weeks by the revenue generated from the sales of the products.

  • Any final remarks?

I would like to recommend to the private and government agencies to cooperate to strengthen the public-private partnership to increase plastic collection and initiate waste materials segregation. The public and private sectors need to be generous in giving financial and material support to facilitate the implementation of the plan. And factories should be motivated to recycle plastic within the country or to manufacture alternative products.

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