Cover Story / March 2019

The Value of Waste

Indonesia, like most other rapidly developing countries, has a problem with disposal of its waste, which amounted to about 66 million metric tons last year. And as the world’s fourth-most populated country, it is also one of the world’s biggest producers of waste. Amanda seeks to do something about this. Her interest in the development of nanocellulose polymers, which can be used in various applications, stems from a doctoral thesis she completed while attending The University of Queensland in Australia. She fell in love with the subject immediately after joining LIPI’s chemistry division to carry out research on natural polymers. And it was the work she did at this state institution that saw her receive a scholarship for her Ph.D.

Amanda continued the research she started on nanocellulose, which is found in organic plant material. Cellulose derived from organic materials – in this case plant waste – can, through a biochemical process, be turned into nanocellulose. This is formed into a thin, transparent film, or nanoscreen, which has various applications, but mainly as a viable biodegradable substitute for smartphone and computer screens. “With the large amount of organic waste Indonesia produces, turning it into a usable product would be a worthwhile investment,” Amanda says.

As Indonesia is as also the world’s largest palm oil producer, a large portion of the waste it generates is organic. Amanda has developed a way to use certain bacteria to turn this organic waste into bioscreen. She says although there had been a lot of research into ways to manage waste from palm oil production, there had yet to be research on producing something of value from it. With smartphones having become ubiquitous, the development of such technology might have a huge long-term impact. She says due to its biodiversity, Indonesia has the potential to capitalize on this technology. “Although I am not the first to research and develop this technology, because this is such a new field of research, I feel the country may be able to match the development of this technology with the rest of the world, or even lead it,” Amanda explains.

However, the use of nanocellulose is not limited to screens for gadgets and computers, as there is a myriad of other potential applications. “I started the research into nanocellulose to develop a building material that can suit the climatic conditions in Australia,” she explains. “But when I returned home, there was no need for such building material, as the weather is not as extreme [in Indonesia].” Despite her shift in focus on the usage of the material, Amanda says the technology has virtually limitless applications. While it is still under development, it has already attracted interest from various institutions, from Indonesia and abroad, which are interested in collaboration. “As we have developed a physical bioscreen, courtesy of the collaboration with several parties at LIPI, our success has garnered many invitations to collaborate to further develop the technology,” Amanda says.

As an academic and researcher, she is happy to see the appreciation in Indonesia for her work. “Scientists and researchers have a greater influence in this era, because of the rapid development of technology, and they are more appreciated by the masses and the government,” Amanda says. According to her, academics have a huge role to play in the country’s future development, as innovation-based technology has become the measure of a well-developed nation. She considers her research a small contribution to the many innovations that are needed to build a better nation.