Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) has planned to construct 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, which is expected to be the first-of-its-kind globally, follows five years of joint research and development (R&D) by EGA and the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Australia.
EGA’s game-changing process converts bauxite residue in its entirety in hours into environmentally-benign, plant-friendly soil. The pilot plant, set to be constructed in Abu Dhabi’s Al Taweelah, is expected to be operational in 2023.
According to industry experts, at least 150 million tons of bauxite residue are produced worldwide each year, with less than 2 percent being used for productive uses. 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 fertilizer than local sandy alternatives.
“The productive use of bauxite residue has been a global challenge since the dawn of the aluminum 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.”
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 as Europe but this bulk transportation of soil products generates greater greenhouse gas emissions.