ReActiv project seeks to transform bauxite residue into cement substitute, but economic viability is uncertain

October 24, 2022 | Case Study

In the first step of aluminum production, the Bayer process converts bauxite ore into alumina (Al2O3). The process generates bauxite residue (BR, also known as red mud) in the range of 0.3–2.5 tonne BR per tonne of alumina produced, depending on the quality of the bauxite ore. The BR is highly alkaline and needs significant land area for drying and storage — most producers store the material in large tailing ponds. The current global stockpile of BR is nearly 4 Gtonne. Increasing aluminum demand will amplify the problem of BR storage, with production forecast to increase 4%–6% annually. Extreme weather events may also lead to unwanted escape of highly alkaline (pH of 11 to 13) BR, affecting the local ecology and population. Major aluminum producers are working on projects to recycle BR or use it for building materials, extraction of iron and rare earth elements, and soil remediation. Currently, only 2%–3% of BR is valorized throughout the world, and its use in building materials is the only promising area where bulk utilization of BR is possible. The ReActiv project started in 2020 to develop technologies that can increase the use of BR in cement production throughout Europe. This project brings together 22 organizations, including aluminum producers, cement producers, and research institutes from 12 countries.

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