Queensland research to optimise bauxite processing has attracted a cash injection.
University of Queensland researcher Dr Hong Peng had received a $180,000 research fellowship from the State Government for his work, backed by an additional investment of $90,000 from UQ and almost $130,000 from Rio Tinto.
Dr Peng, who is collaborating with Rio Tinto in developing the new processing system, said financial and environmental benefits were among the advantages.
“Successful implementation of this technology may increase the amount of bauxite that can be economically mined,” he said.
“This will increase utilisation of north Queensland bauxite deposits and provide benefits to refineries treating this ore such as the Rio Tinto Aluminium Gladstone refineries.”
Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations managing director Bruce Cox said the company was excited about the potential to reduce refinery operating costs and minimise waste produced during bauxite processing.
“Once industrialised, the process could extend the life of our bauxite mines and improve sales opportunities within Asia,” Mr Cox said. “This increase in revenues and royalties would benefit all Queenslanders.”
Bauxite ore is conventionally refined using the Bayer process – separating alumina from the mixture of iron oxides, titanium dioxide and aluminosilicate – known as the desilication product (DSP).
The DSP crystallises to a fine powder intermingled through the residue – red mud – which must be chemically neutralised and maintained in long-term storage.
Dr Peng’s process controls this crystallisation, instead yielding a coarser material, which can be separated and removed – allowing the recovery of valuable components of the waste residue.
Dr Peng said it would take a minimum of five years or more to roll out the technology.
“The project is in the preliminary stages of the research and development cycle,” Dr Peng said. “We have proof-of-concept experimental laboratory results regarding all of the key processing stages.”