Could you tell us about how you started working at the Ermafa Environmental Technologies (EET) in 2020?
I was hired by the EET for my experience in surface chemistry and material sciences. We started with proof of concept experiments at laboratory scale and went from there step by step.

What do you like most about working at Ermafa?
That we share thoughts and ideas from different disciplines to combine and improve our technology. That everyone is encouraged to contribute and that together we tackle difficult environmental problems. Everyone in the EET is involved in sustainability and at the same time most feel passionate about environment, innovation, engineering and technology.

How did you start working with red mud?
At the beginning, we had 3 different red mud samples from around the world and started to analyse their properties. We found a big difference between the mud samples and worked to improve the separation process of each type. We faced many difficulties and differences even in red muds from the same location. Because of constantly changing mineralogical composition we needed to find a way to adapt our process without changing our machinery to everchanging requirements.

What elements are critical to the bauxite residue recycling process?
The different processes used to extract aluminum from bauxite and the large amounts of red mud. The process depends largely on the correct surface chemistry and water purity. We adapted the process to allow us to recycle the water in our process and reuse it without lowering the quality of the product. This way we can use this process even in regions of water scarcity. „This sounds a little crazy at first glance.“

What interests you most in your job: the engineering process or the sustainability aspect?
I am excited about making small steps towards solving a big environmental problem every day. I also like the challenges that come with the job. I have experienced the way from the very beginning where we had no idea where to start, to now when we can offer a solution to one of the world’s problems.

What are the next goals?
There are several locations where we are planning to establish our pilot plant. At the same time, we work on establishing a good rapport with various off take companies for our products and to get them certified for their processes. On the research side, we want to improve the quality of our fractions. The ore fraction is a valuable resource, as it can be used in the steel industry. We collaborate with universities and steel manufacturers on this goal. The fine fraction has a wider range of options such as CO2 reduced concrete, coloring agents, brick manufacturing, bioleaching, artificial soil, and more. Our goal is to generate lasting value out of them without generating further waste. Additionally, we are looking into extracting aluminum from aluminum-salt slags from smelters. The slag is a waste product from the aluminum recycling industry where we experiment with extracting the metal.

What challenges do you usually face?
There are some obstacles connected with bureaucracy, especially when we want to show waste as a valuable resource. This sounds a little crazy at first glance. That’s why it is hard to get samples and raw material from all over the world as Red Mud is usually not transported off-site.

How do you see the situation of bauxite residue recycling in 20 years?
In 20 years, most of the red mud will be processed immediately. This will eliminate the need for large storage lakes. We will start processing old storage lakes removing the danger that they pose. Red mud will be recognized as a new resource that is widely used in the industry.

Wolfgang Kapaun
REDREC Projectmanager