Rio Tinto, Queensland Alumina Limited and The University of Queensland win partnership award for red mud rehabilitation research

26 September 2019

Rio Tinto, Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) and The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Sustainable Minerals Institute have been recognised for research into technologies that could turn bauxite residue, or ‘red mud’, into soil capable of growing plants.

If successful, the research could help transform the way alumina refineries rehabilitate red mud dams.

The trio won the ‘Achieving Resilient Environments and Livelihoods’ Award at the 2019 UQ Partners in Research Excellence Awards in Brisbane. The award recognises both the quality of the research and the strength of the partnership.

The collaboration began during planning for the 2017 closure of Rio Tinto’s Gove alumina refinery, with a shared focus on changing future rehabilitation practices to benefit the natural environment and reduce associated costs.

Bauxite residue, also known as ‘red mud’, is a major waste product generated during alumina refining.

Worldwide, there is currently hundreds of millions of tonnes of red mud, with significant rehabilitation work required to return the land to a natural ecosystem once refining operations cease.

The Rio Tinto and QAL-funded partnership is trialling a new process that uses eco-engineering technology to alter the minerals in the red mud into a soil-like material suitable for plant growth.

Led by the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Professor Longbin Huang, the research team works closely with employees at the Yarwun and QAL refineries in Gladstone and Gove in the Northern Territory. Field trials have shown promising findings to date.

“It is fantastic to have our partnership with Rio Tinto and QAL recognised at these awards,” Professor Longbin said.

“If these technologies prove successful, it could transform the way refineries manage red mud dams by turning them back into useable land, significantly improving the economic and ecological sustainability of the aluminium industry.”

The UQ Partners in Research Excellence Awards recognises outstanding industry-UQ collaborations that have benefitted industry and the community.