Development of a mineral gel technology that will provide effective, low cost, rapid management of toxic red mud from alumina refineries has received a major financial boost.
Red mud is the waste product generated by the production of aluminum oxide, or alumina.
University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute researcher Dr Tuan Nguyen has secured almost $500,000 to develop the gel technology that will transform the way refineries manage waste sustainably and economically.
Dr Nguyen said the gel had the potential to minimise pollution risks from red mud storage.
“New and cost-effective technologies are urgently required to assist the refinery industry to operate with much improved environmental outcomes,” he said.
“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.”
Dr Nguyen won a $180,000 Advanced Queensland Industry Research Fellowship.
Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited have topped that up to almost $500,000, contributing cash and in-kind support.
“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,” Dr Nguyen said.
“They accumulate millions of tons of red mud which is stored across 1,500 hectares of dams in Central Queensland.”
Dr Nguyen recently joined the Sustainable Minerals Institute to work on research to develop cost-effective and sustainable technologies for rehabilitating red mud dams in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Research group leader Associate Professor Longbin Huang said the technology was an important part of a new research theme 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 said.
“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.”