Emirates Global Aluminium, the largest industrial company in the United Arab Emirates outside oil and gas, today announced a collaboration with the American University of Sharjah’s College of Engineering to research the economic and environmental benefits of re-using of food waste to enrich manufactured soils made from bauxite residue, and further applications in waste-to-energy.
The AED 1.6 million three-year research project is the second phase of EGA’s cooperation with the American University of Sharjah on the re-use of bauxite residue, a by-product stream from alumina refining.
The new research follows three years of work between the two organisations to establish technically how food waste as biochar - a type of charcoal based on indigenous agricultural knowledge from the Amazon basin – can be combined with treated bauxite residue to create a manufactured soil for greening and other purposes.
Other by-products from food waste in the potential treatment process – bio-oil and bio-gas - were also identified in the first phase of research, with potential waste-to-energy uses.
The new research aims to show that an integrated process would be environmentally and economically beneficial, and enable the UAE’s significant food waste generation to contribute not only to bauxite residue re-use but also waste-to-energy projects.
The recovery of food waste as a designer biochar and as bio-energy products would constitute a significant innovation at the global level. The work could contribute directly to the UAE’s aim of reducing waste-to-landfill by 75 per cent by 2030, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, optimising local resources, and through R&D, contribute to the overall development of the UAE knowledge economy.
EGA has also been conducting research in-house and with other institutions including The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. Earlier this year, EGA announced the company is to build a pilot plant in Al Taweelah to convert bauxite residue into manufactured soil products. The pilot plant is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.
Abdalla Al Zarooni, Vice President – Technology Development and Transfer at EGA, said: “We are always looking at solutions to reduce the waste streams of our industrial activities, in addition to supporting the UAE’s net zero ambitions and landfill reduction goals. Following the technical breakthrough of EGA’s Turba process, which is the conversion of bauxite residue into a manufactured soil, we look forward to our researchers examining the further economic and environmental benefits of using food waste to generate the required biochar for this manufactured soil.”
Dr. Yassir Makkawi, Project lead investigator and Professor of Chemical Engineering at AUS, said: “Sustainable management of both industrial and food waste is one of the main challenges of governments as they seek to meet their targets for waste minimisation and reducing CO2 emissions. With environmental outcomes an increasing concern of the public and strict regulations in place governing waste disposal and landfill, finding novel solutions is becoming more and more important. This project will now contribute to the UAE’s ability to successfully manage industrial and food waste in a way that has less of a detrimental impact on the environment than has traditionally been the case.”
Industry experts estimate that at least 150 million tonnes of bauxite residue are produced worldwide each year and less than two percent are currently put to productive use. Left untreated, bauxite residue is a caustic material that cannot support plant life. The UAE imports large quantities of soil products each year for greening and agricultural purposes.
The UAE produces approximately two million tonnes of food waste per year and initial research suggests that an estimated 20 to 40 per cent could be converted to biochar and a similar percentage to bio-energy products.
Bio-energy products are a renewable low carbon energy source, that can be used as a substitute for fuel oil or diesel in electricity generation.
EGA’s Bauxite Residue R&D Group has created a portfolio of additional novel applications that are at an advanced stage of development, with further pilot-scale trials expected.
EGA has already developed re-uses for other waste streams from its industrial activities. These include spent pot lining, a by-product of aluminium smelting, which is re-used as an alternative feedstock and fuel by the UAE cement industry; carbon dust, which is also used as a fuel in cement manufacturing; and dross which is processed to recover aluminium. EGA’s long-term aspiration is to send zero process waste to landfill.