Several errors occurred in the original story of Feb. 5, 2013. Below is the corrected version.
MONTREAL – The Canadian mineral industry has a reputation as a global leader in technology – for exploration, cost efficiency, automation, and environmental action. And now a Canadian solution for the toxic red mud problem dogging the aluminum industry is about to hit the world stage.
The patented solution belongs to Orbite Aluminae Inc. of Montreal. The company's recent joint venture with French waste management giant Veolia Environmental Services will take the Orbite technology around the globe, making it the industry standard. Orbite is supplying the intellectual property and licensing; Veolia will build and operate the plants, thus ensuring the quality of products and ensuring their operation is cost effective and environmentally sound.
Orbite is the developer of the patented high purity alumina (HPA) process. The company also developed two other processes wiwth similar technology – smelter grade alumina (SGA) and Red Mud. The latter is used to treat red mud remaining after alumina ores have been treated with the Bayer process, to recover valuable alumina, hematite and rare earths from what is otherwise a toxic legacy.
Red mud is a caustic waste that is difficult to treat because existing purification processes are complicated, costly and ineffective. Orbite offers the only cost effective technology in the world.
Red mud often remains stored in situ, which increases the risk of accidental spills, and the problem is growing exponentially. Since the first aluminum was produced in the 1880s, lakes of red mud tailings have accumulated to an estimated 3 billion tonnes. Another one billion tonnes will be added to global stockpiles sometime between 2015 and 2018 as demand for the light, versatile metal remains strong.
Orbite founder, president and CEO Richard Boudreault spoke with CMJ earlier today. "We are in a good position," he said. "Veolia has the deep pockets and relationships with governments and ministries to take our process global. Veolia does over 10 billion euros of business every year treating hazardous materials and often recovering valuable by-products."
The by-products recoverable using the Red Mud and the other processes make Orbite's technology very cost effective. Depending on where it is mined, up to half the alumina in bauxite ore remains in the red mud after it is treated by the Bayer process. The problem is exacerbated if the bauxite has a high silica content. The mud also contains hematite at grades of 7% to 8% and rare earths, particularly gallium and scandium, at grades of 600 to 800 ppm. The ability to recover valuable by-products and ameliorate an environmental problem at the same time is the advantage of the Red Mud process.
"Treating the world's red mud problem will need hundreds of Orbite plants, each costing between $100 million and $500 million to build," said Boudreault, "but they will pay for themselves in one to three years."
For now Boudreault sees the market for Orbite's Red Mud process in environmental remediation. With at 3 billion tonnes and more of red mud lying in various stockpiles around the world, the need for clean-up is pressing. But eventually, Orbite technology could replace the Bayer process for primary production and the red mud problem would not occur.
Either way Orbite's technology and Veolia's global presence will make the Red Mud process the global standard for decades to come.
If readers wish to explore the technical details of the Orbite's technology, please read the white papers posted at OrbiteAluminae.com.