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Home » EGA commences construction of first-of-its-kind pilot plant to convert bauxite residue into manufactured soil

EGA commences construction of first-of-its-kind pilot plant to convert bauxite residue into manufactured soil

by Madaline Dunn

Emirates Global Aluminium announced today that it has begun construction of a pilot plant to convert bauxite residue, a waste stream from alumina refining, into manufactured soil – thought to be the first of its kind in the world.

This announcement comes following five years of scientific research & development by EGA and a consortium of global research partners, which led to a breakthrough in the re-use of one of the aluminium industry’s most challenging waste streams.

EGA said it has spent the last year on detailed engineering work.

The pilot plant will use EGA’s proprietary technology to neutralise caustic bauxite residue into an environmentally benign raw material in hours, significantly speeding up a process that usually involves decades-long, natural processes.

This Optimised Bauxite Residue is the main ingredient for the manufactured soil, which EGA calls ‘Turba’ (the Arabic word for soil).

The company said that the pilot plant will prove the potential to industrialise EGA’s “revolutionary process” and will allow the company to conduct large-scale trials to test plant growth using the manufactured soil.

The company shared that it is expected to be completed during 2024.

According to the company, laboratory-scale trials have shown that Turba “significantly enhances” plant growth while using less water and fertiliser than local sandy alternatives.

The pilot plant will be capable of producing up to six tonnes of optimised bauxite residue per day.

Abdulnasser Bin Kalban, Chief Executive Officer of Emirates Global Aluminium, said: “The construction of this pilot plant is an important milestone in our drive to find productive uses for bauxite residue, which has been a challenge since the dawn of our industry. Manufactured soil has great potential as a solution, as it meets an important need in the UAE. Our goal is to develop and prove multiple solutions, to ensure all bauxite residue produced in the UAE is used in the UAE, contributing to a more circular economy.”

Some 150 million tonnes of bauxite residue are thought to be produced worldwide every year, but less than two per cent is put to productive use, it shared.

Untreated bauxite residue is caustic and does not support plant life.

The plant, which will be located at EGA’s site in Al Taweelah in Abu Dhabi, will cover an area of 900 square metres when complete, and contain 230 tonnes of steel, more than two kilometres of piping, and ten separate tanks.

The heart of the plant, a specialised filtration system, was built in Finland and arrived in the UAE in June.

“The UAE has limited naturally-occurring soil, and imports significant quantities each year for greening and agricultural purposes. Soil is considered a non-renewable resource as it takes centuries to develop naturally in even the most favourable climates,” it said.

Adding: “The world’s soil naturally absorbs some 20 per cent of man-made CO2 emissions every year, making soil the largest terrestrial CO2 storage facility and critical for the global effort to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Soil’s CO2 absorption capability is under threat globally from human-driven soil erosion.”

According to EGA, early studies have shown that Turba may have up to ten times better CO2 absorption properties than the UAE’s natural soil.

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