University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute researcher Dr Tuan Nguyen has secured a fund of US$ 500,000 to develop a gel technology that will transform the way alumina refineries manage bauxite residues sustainably and economically. This mineral gel technology is expected to provide effective, low cost, rapid management of toxic red mud from alumina refineries while minimising the pollution risks from red mud storage.

“New and cost-effective technologies are urgently required to assist the refinery industry to operate with much improved environmental outcomes,” Dr Nguyen said.

As explained by him, the gel technology transforms mineral grains into stable and benign soil-like structures so it can sustain plant root systems and help in proper rehabilitation of the storage area. This, according to him, will help with seepage management and red mud rehabilitation at a lower cost and time.

Dr Nguyen won a US$180,000 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship for his study and it was topped-up by Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited to make it almost US$500,000 with cash and in-kind support.

“This funding is an outcome of strong collaboration between research and the environment teams of industry partners Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited, which produce $6 billion of alumina a year,” Dr Nguyen said.

The red mud generated by Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited is stored across 1,500 hectares of dams in Central Queensland.

Dr Nguyen is working on developing cost-effective and sustainable technologies for rehabilitating red mud dams in Queensland and the Northern Territory which have created a concern among the environmentalists. The ecological engineering of mine wastes is the topic of his research works.

The funding opportunity is expected to help in significant advancement of new technology to rehabilitate toxic red mud.

“This technology will help establish a red mud rehabilitation industry in Queensland, and make The University of Queensland the leading hub of red mud research and applications,” said Research group leader Associate Professor Longbin Huang.

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