United Arab Emirates, 10 February 2022: Emirates Global Aluminium, the largest industrial company in the United Arab Emirates outside oil and gas, is to begin construction of a pilot plant to convert bauxite residue, a waste stream from alumina refining, into soil products that can be used for greening and other purposes in the UAE.
The pilot plant is thought to be the first of its kind in the world, and follows five years of research & development by EGA and The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. EGA’s game-changing process converts bauxite residue in its entirety in hours into an environmentally-benign, plant-friendly soil.
Industry experts estimate that at least 150 million tonnes of bauxite residue are produced worldwide each year and less than two percent are currently put to productive use. Untreated bauxite residue is a caustic material that cannot support plant life.
Trials have shown that EGA’s manufactured soil, which the company calls Turba (the Arabic word for soil), enhances plant growth while using less water and fertiliser than local sandy alternatives.
The UAE has insufficient naturally-occurring soil, due to the arid climate. The country currently imports large quantities of soil products each year for greening and agricultural purposes from as far afield as Europe. Soil is a complex of minerals and organic matter and is considered a non-renewable resource. In even the most favourable climates, it takes nature centuries or longer to add even a centimetre of soil to the surface. Bulk transportation of soil products generates greenhouse gas emissions.
Abdulnasser Bin Kalban, Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Global Aluminium, said: “The productive use of bauxite residue has been a global challenge since the dawn of the aluminium industry more than a century ago. We believe that our Turba process is a breakthrough, and our pilot plant will enable us to learn how to apply it on a large-scale. This and other potential solutions we are developing hold out the prospect of an end to new bauxite residue storage this decade, whilst creating products useful in the UAE.”
EGA’s pilot plant, which will be in Al Taweelah in Abu Dhabi, is expected to be operational in 2023.
EGA began production at Al Taweelah alumina refinery in Abu Dhabi in 2019, inaugurating alumina refining as a new industrial activity in the UAE.
The licensing terms for Al Taweelah alumina refinery include a commitment by EGA to find productive uses for bauxite residue within the UAE. Whilst these uses are developed, EGA is storing bauxite residue in line with current world-class best practice at a dedicated site about 30 kilometres inland from the coast in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi.
EGA’s Bauxite Residue R&D Group has created a portfolio of additional novel applications that are at an advanced stage of development, with further pilot-scale trials expected.
EGA has already developed re-uses for other waste streams from its industrial activities. These include spent pot lining, a by-product of aluminium smelting, which is re-used as an alternative feedstock and fuel by the UAE cement industry; carbon dust, which is also used as a fuel in cement manufacturing; and dross which is processed to recover aluminium. EGA’s long-term aspiration is to send zero process waste to landfill.