Environmental approval has been given to a pilot project aiming to produce alumina using toxic waste that has sat dormant in a tailings dam at Bell Bay for half a century.
A toxic byproduct known as "red mud" was created during the production of bauxite at a refinery between 1956 and 1972, which has remained in a dam at Rio Tinto's Bell Bay Aluminium site.
The proponent - Peloton Resources - believes that if the project is successful, it could be a major global breakthrough in the management of red mud.
"It also provides an opportunity to mitigate the significant environmental risk associated with the management of red mud storage, which is estimated at 4 billion tonnes worldwide, and growing at 150 million tonnes per year," the environmental documents state.
The project would process up to 15 tonnes of red mud per year using 51 tonnes of chemicals and 70 tonnes of water, at a site immediately next to the tailings dam. It involves neutralising the high alkalinity of the mud.
The process is described as a "closed system" with no wastewater discharge.
A licensed waste removal operator would be used to dispose of solid waste.
A layer of soil was added to the surface of the dam in recent decades and it has been substantially revegetated.
Environmental Protection Authority deputy director Cindy Ong said the project could be handled in "an environmentally sustainable and acceptable manner" with some conditions.
"Various environmental issues were considered by the Board in its assessment, particularly management of environmentally hazardous substances, with conditions imposed to ensure that the red mud and all chemicals used in the processing are appropriately handled and stored, and that air and water quality are protected," she said.
George Town Council will now consider the proposal.
Peloton Resources plans to have the facility operating in the first quarter of 2022.
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