The International Aluminium Institute published its revised guidelines for sustainably managing bauxite residue or “red mud,” updating its Bauxite Residue Management Best Practice first published in 2015.
The new guidelines, dubbed “Sustainable Bauxite Residue Management Guidance” fleshes out more of the lifecycle of red mud and how relevant parties can better handle the toxic substances in a sustainable manner.
Red mud disposal continues to be an issue facing the aluminium industry. With approximately 133 million metric tons of primary aluminium production last year, around 159.6 million metric tons of red mud was produced, most of which is held in Bauxite Residue Storage Facilities (BRSF). Efforts continue to be made to find new and sustainable ways to repurpose this red mud into safe, useful substances.
Pernelle Nunez, IAI Deputy Secretary General and Director of Sustainability, said in a press release that the document aims to describe new ways to sustainably handle the toxic substance.
“As aluminium production has increased, so has bauxite residue – estimated at almost 170 million tonnes generated in 2021. We’ll need to continue to manage bauxite residue in a sustainable way through innovative treatment, remediation, rehabilitation and utilisation options. This document aims to provide an overview of the varied approaches that can be adopted to minimise the impacts of bauxite residue from the facility design phase through to operation, closure and rehabilitation.”
Roberto Seno, Vice-Chair of the IAI’s Bauxite and Alumina Committee and Technology Manager at Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio said that a great deal of progress on utilizing red mud for valuable purposes has been made to date.
“The IAI and the aluminium sector continues to research how to extract the valuable materials remaining in bauxite residue or use the residue for other production uses. Many opportunities have been identified – some of which, while technically feasible, are not yet economically viable. One of the most promising however has been residue as a raw material for cement production which presents a major opportunity for both industries and growing its bulk consumption is a focus in a number of regions.”
“Residue management goals require a culture of continuous improvement,” explained Eugenio Azevado, Chair of the IAI’s Bauxite and Alumina Committee and Vice President Continuous Improvement at Alcoa. “An ideal future state would be producing zero residue but where this is not yet possible, we want to manage the residue safely stored in Bauxite Residue Storage Facilities (BRSF) so that we can rehabilitate and revegetate them or prepare them for the next useful land use. Residue management is not ‘one-size fits all’ and technology selection and management practices need to be adapted to specific local circumstances.”