Bauxite Residue ceramics
- story by MaterialDistrict
Red Mud, a.k.a. bauxite residue, is a waste of the alumina industry. For every part of aluminium made, two and half times more red mud is also produced. The result is 150 million tonnes produced each year, and left unused in giant pits.
Working with factories and research labs, the industrial residue is transformed into ceramic bodies and glazes fit for architectural use.
Aluminium is not mined in its familiar metallic form. Rather surprisingly, its origins begin in a red stone, called bauxite. From this red ore, a white powder, ‘alumina’, is extracted, and then smelted into the metal we all know and interact with each day, including the very device you are reading this from.
This transformation of aluminium involves a global mechanism and system of extraction that operates at colossal scales and yet is nearly invisible to the everyday eye of its consumers. It is a system of extraction that exists to meet the demands of today. It is also vital to our future, given its recyclability, strength and lightweight nature. Often, this is at the cost of the locals from which it is mined. Ore is mined in countries like China, Brazil, Australia, Guinea and Jamaica, and shipped to refineries in the developed world, dissociating the final product from its material origins.
In the process of refining alumina, a red residue is left behind as a marker of these origins – a trace of the journey it has taken and a stark reminder of the costs, be it social, economic or environmental. This is red mud.
Red mud is presently left in hazardous landfills around the world, so large they can be seen from space. The global stockpile of red mud in these landfills exceeds 4 billion metric tonnes, growing by 150 million tonnes each year as our demands for aluminium continue to rise.