A project to convert red mud waste created by refining alumina by the University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute received significant financial backing earlier this week, as the project announce the accumulation of almost A$500,000 to pursue its research.
Though details of the research are scarce, the project, headed up by Dr. Tuan Nguyen, is pursuing the development of a mineral gel that will offer an affordable, quick, and complete solution to the problem of disposal of red mud.
“New and cost-effective technologies are urgently required to assist the refinery industry to operate with much improved environmental outcomes,” explained Dr. Nguyen.
“Safely storing and processing red mud is difficult, costly and time-consuming.
“But the gel chemically links mineral grains into stable and benign soil-like structures so it can sustain plant root systems, resulting in a successful rehabilitation outcome.
“This will help massively with seepage management and red mud rehabilitation.”
The gel, which will offer a sustainable method for minimizing pollution risks as well, will benefit from a A$180,000 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship awarded to Dr. Nguyen, to which Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited have promised A$320,000 in funding and in-kind assistance.
“This funding is an outcome of strong collaboration between research and the environment teams of industry partners Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited, which produce $6 billion of alumina a year,” explained Dr. Nguyen.
“They accumulate millions of tons of red mud which is stored across 1,500 hectares of dams in Central Queensland.”
Associate Professor Longbin Huang, research group leader for the project, highlighted the importance of the project in the budding field of ecological engineering of mine wastes.
“Tuan’s appointment and the jump-start of this excellent funding opportunity are likely to lead to significant advancement of new technology to rehabilitate toxic red mud,” he explained.
“This technology will help establish a red mud rehabilitation industry in Queensland, and make The University of Queensland the leading hub of red mud research and applications.”