Queensland Alumina Limited's Red Mud Dam.
Queensland Alumina Limited's Red Mud Dam.

Recognition for green idea for red mud

A RESEARCH team exploring ways to transform red mud into a soil that could be used for growing plants has been awarded for its innovation.

Rio Tinto, Queensland Alumina Limited and the University of Queensland's Sustainable Minerals Institute were recognised at the 2019 UQ Partners in Research Excellence Awards for their two-year research into technologies that could turn bauxite residue into a usable soil.

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

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

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


University of Queensland professor Longbin Huang and Rio Tinto's professor David Parry.
University of Queensland professor Longbin Huang and Rio Tinto's professor David Parry.


Worldwide, there are 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 team works with employees at the Yarwun and QAL refineries in Gladstone and Gove in the Northern Territory.

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