Queensland Alumina Limited's red mud dam facility.
Queensland Alumina Limited's red mud dam facility.

QAL and university begin industry-changing red mud dam work

QUEENSLAND Alumina Limited has partnered with one of the state's largest universities for rehabilitation research at red mud dam, which could change the refining industry.

The recent partnership with the University of Queensland aims to explore how rehabilitation is best implemented at the site and what types of vegetation are conditioned to withstand the elements of red mud and blend in the with native vegetation.

The research is part of the company's long-term project to rehabilitate the 1000 hectares of land, used as a storage facility, back to a self-sustaining ecosystem when it is no longer needed.

QAL's manager of health, safety and environment, Trent Scherer, said research was being undertaken globally to find out how sites could close and rehabilitate their red mud dams in a cost effective and environmentally sustainable way.

"This is the first salt water neutralised red mud dam rehabilitation trial that will be undertaken so the research is very exciting,” he said.

"Our primary objectives for the UQ study is to find out a way to turn the Red Mud into a type of soil-like medium that plants can grow in and then identify what types of plant species can grow and complete life cycles in this environment.

"Additionally we are trying to source a way to substitute the use of top soils with available local waste streams such as ash from QAL's coal- fired boilers, the NRG power station or green waste from the community.”

University of Queensland's associate professor Longbin

Huang said if successful, the study could transform the aluminium industry.

"It could transform the way refineries are able to manage these red mud dams by turning them back into usable land and significantly improve economic and ecological sustainability of the Aluminium industry in Australia,” Mr Huang said.

The company started the project in 2017 and further field trials will start later this year. The current expected expected life for QAL is another 60 years.

QAL has set aside two hectares to start the revegetation trials, which will be based around the findings of a laboratory trial at UQ.