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First red mud remediation treatment developed

By Adrian Bishop - 06 Aug 2012 12:20:20 GMT
 First red mud remediation treatment developed

Aluminium image; Credit: © Shutterstock

A Canadian clean technology company has developed the first commercial treatment for red mud - the biggest problem in the aluminium industry.

Less than two years after Hungary's red mud spill - one of the worst European industrial accidents - Orbite Aluminae Inc. says its patented technology is the only environmentally-sustainable and commercially viable alternative that manages and eliminates the toxic residues.

Statistics from the International Committee for Study of Bauxite, Alumina & Aluminium show 100 million tons of red mud was produced by aluminium producers last year, but only one-twentieth was reused. The remainder was stored in reservoirs and pools.

The risks of such storage were illustrated by the Hungarian disaster in October 2010, where a retaining dyke split. Other spills have occurred in Brazil, Canada, China and India.

Under the Orbite treatment, red mud is converted into an inert and dry residue, which is less than one-tenth of the volume of the original. The technology eliminates the environmental problems linked with the established Bayer production process and opposition some countries have shown to new mining and production facilities.

The conventional way of extracting alumina from bauxite was first developed by an Austrian chemist Bayer in 1888. Orbite's system uses less energy and pollution, with no corrosive by-products.

The Orbite technology makes it possible to use an ecologically sound method to recapture valuable commercial produces including rare metal oxides, aluminium oxide (alumina) that makes up a quarter of red mud, magnesium oxide and pure hematite that provides the red colouring of the residue.

Red mud remediation process

Red mud remediation process; Credit: © Orbite Aluminae

Orbite now aims to licence the technology. The company owns exclusive mining rights over 60,984 hectares, including the 6,665 hectare Grande-Vallee aluminous clay deposit in Quebec, Canada, part of which is believed to contain a billion tonnes of aluminous clay.

By early next year, Orbite hopes to convert its 2,600 square metre pilot plant in Cap-Chat, Quebec, into a full-scale production facility for high-purity alumina.

Orbite has recently formed partnerships with UC Rusal, the world's largest aluminium producer, and the Indian Government public sector enterprise, the National Aluminium Company Limited, which is the largest integrated aluminium complex in Asia.

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Topics: Pollution