EGA and VITO to intensify research on the potential use of industrial by-product for construction applications

United Arab Emirates: Emirates Global Aluminium, the largest industrial company in the United Arab Emirates outside oil and gas, will intensify research partnership with the European research and technology organisation, VITO NV. The partnership aims to find uses for bauxite residue by the UAE construction industry by further developing two of the potential applications identified in the first phase of the project.

EGA and VITO have been working together on research into the large-scale use of bauxite residue in construction materials since 2017. VITO will continue to work closely with experts at the University of Leuven in Belgium on this research.

The first of the new studies will investigate the potential for bauxite residue to be used for constructing road foundations, replacing materials such as sand. Most naturally-occurring sand in the UAE is unsuitable for road-base, meaning much of the sand used for road construction is imported.

The second study will assess whether bauxite residue can replace imported clay-based light weight aggregates, which are used to make light weight concrete as well as sound and heat insulating blocks. If successful, this could create a new industry based on locally available materials and substantially reduce the UAE’s reliance on these imported construction products.

Dr Ali Alzarouni, EGA’s Executive Vice President Midstream said: “We are now moving into the next stage of this important research on the use of bauxite residue, with detailed work on specific potential applications in construction. Finding economically-viable uses for bauxite residue is a global challenge. We are mindful of the scale of the task, but success here could be a breakthrough for our entire industry.”

Bauxite residue is a by-product of alumina refining - the process of turning bauxite ore into alumina, which is the feedstock for aluminium smelters. EGA is constructing the first alumina refinery in the UAE next to its Al Taweelah smelter in Abu Dhabi.

Although for decades academic research has been conducted on potential uses, most bauxite residue produced worldwide is still stored indefinitely as waste. Industry experts estimate that at least 150 million tonnes of bauxite residue is produced worldwide each year and less than two percent of this is currently put to productive use.

Whilst new productive uses for bauxite residue are developed, EGA will operate a dedicated bauxite residue storage site in line with current world-class best practice, about 30 kilometres inland from the coast in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi.

When the Al Taweelah alumina refinery starts production, bauxite residue will be washed, pressed into a dry cake, and transported to the area for permanent managed storage. The site will eventually be covered and used for other industrial purposes.

EGA is also working with The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences to investigate combining bauxite residue with agricultural and domestic wastes to create a soil for greening and other uses in the UAE.