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August 30, 2011
Alcoa Wins Top Honors for Cost-Effective, Energy-Saving Innovation in the Alumina Refining Process
NEW YORK--Alcoa (NYSE:AA) announced today that its global refining research and
development team, based at the Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia,
has been awarded the inaugural AIRG Medal for ground-breaking technology
that reduces the company’s energy use.
The Medal recognizes outstanding technology management achievement in
industrial research and implementation across Australasia and is
presented by the Australasian Industrial Research Group (AIRG), the
professional body responsible for technological innovation and research
and development in public and private companies operating in Australia
and New Zealand.
The Technology Delivery Group (TDG), which services Alcoa worldwide, has
been honored for innovation that uses naturally occurring microorganisms
to consume oxalate - an impurity in the alumina refining process.
Oxalate removal is essential for high alumina quality and refinery
productivity. The technology, known as 'continuous biological oxalate
destruction,' is a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution
to the oxalate challenge. In addition, like other oxalate destruction
technologies, it allows for the oxalate to be converted into a useful
material, sodium carbonate. This is then input back into the alumina
refining process and avoids the need for oxalate disposal.
AIRG President Leonie Walsh said winning this Medal requires industrial
research that is not only demonstrated but implemented full scale.
“We see a lot of ideas and possibilities, which look like they have
potential, but which never actually eventuate, and this is about
recognizing commercial achievements that are proven.
“Alcoa’s submission unequivocally qualified. The TDG team took effective
research management through to demonstration, and then to successful
commercialization. It’s not every day you see that.
“There were several worthy competitors, but there’s no doubt TDG’s
submission was the stand out,” Walsh said.
TDG Research Chemist Dr. Amanda Tilbury believes it’s the first time a
continuous biological removal process has been implemented for this type
of industrial application. She said it was more than 10 years in the
making and builds on early work started by other alumina producers.
“The alternative oxalate destruction technique is very expensive and
energy intensive, so this new process is saving Alcoa millions of
dollars while at the same time reducing our energy use. And it provides
a platform for future installations in Alcoa refineries around the
world,” Tilbury said.
Continuous biological oxalate destruction is in operation at Alcoa’s
Kwinana Refinery is saving approximately US$1.6 million in energy costs
annually. It is currently being implemented at the Pinjarra Refinery,
which is expected to save US$1.2 million annually. Alcoa’s Wagerup
Refinery is expected to benefit from the technology in the coming years.
Long-term, the process has the potential to consume all of the nearly
200 metric tons of oxalate removed each day by Alcoa's nine refineries
around the world.
Director of Research for Alcoa’s Global Refining System Dr. Ian Harrison
said: “To receive an award from an organization that is essentially made
up of my professional peers, for whom I have the highest respect, is
extremely rewarding and a great honor.”
“The biological destruction process has proven to be extremely robust
technology, delivering well above design expectations,” said Alcoa Vice
President of Technology and Manufacturing, Laurie Stonehouse.
“Our people keep proving over and over that they are an elite group of
Australia’s premier scientists and engineers, who continue to set global
benchmarks for best practice in their fields and are leaders in their
profession – they should be very proud of this achievement.”
“The AIRG Executive Committee would like to offer the TDG team our
congratulations for an outstanding achievement on technology that’s been
executed exceptionally well,” said Dr. Greg Smith, member of the AIRG
This is the third prestigious award for the technology in the past 12
months. In 2010, this technology won the Western Australia Engineering
Excellence Award (Environment category) and the Australian Government
Engineering Innovation Award at the Australian Engineering Excellence
Since 1968 TDG has been developing innovative new equipment and
processes for cleaner, more efficient production at Alcoa refineries
worldwide, and consistently helps to solve environmental challenges
through new technology. TDG employs around 80 scientists, engineers, and
research and support staff.
About the Australian Industrial Research Group (AIRG)
AIRG is the professional body for managers responsible for technological
innovation and R&D in public and private companies operating in
Australia & New Zealand. The AIRG’s role is to improve the quality of
research management in those countries, by organizing activities which
stimulate greater understanding of the effective management of research
and development as a force to drive economic, industrial and social
Background on Oxalate
Oxalate is a natural product found in soil and some plants. When
decaying plant matter is carried underground via water, some of it
sticks to bauxite ore and enters the alumina refining process, where it
degrades into oxalate. Considered an impurity, oxalate must be removed
for the process to work efficiently and for the alumina to meet
Background to Continuous Biological Oxalate Destruction
The biological destruction process uses a series of tanks containing
warm liquid and naturally occurring bacteria growing on plastic
carriers. Oxygen and nutrients are added, and oxalate is introduced as a
feed source. The bacteria consume the oxalate.
This project is an example of a dedicated and highly skilled team at
TDG, working very closely with scientists from the University of Western
Australia and CSIRO, (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation), the national government body for scientific research in
Australia, to achieve a result which has exceeded expectations.
Alcoa is the world’s leading producer of primary and fabricated
aluminum, as well as the world’s largest miner of bauxite and refiner of
alumina. In addition to inventing the modern-day aluminum industry,
Alcoa innovation has been behind major milestones in the aerospace,
automotive, packaging, building and construction, commercial
transportation, consumer electronics and industrial markets over the
past 120 years. Among the solutions Alcoa markets are flat-rolled
products, hard alloy extrusions, and forgings, as well as Alcoa® wheels,
fastening systems, precision and investment castings, and building
systems in addition to its expertise in other light metals such as
titanium and nickel-based super alloys. Sustainability is an integral
part of Alcoa’s operating practices and the product design and
engineering it provides to customers. Alcoa has been a member of the Dow
Jones Sustainability Index for nine consecutive years and approximately
75 percent of all of the aluminum ever produced since 1888 is still in
active use today. Alcoa employs approximately 59,000 people in 31
countries across the world. More information can be found at www.alcoa.com.