Champion of solving ‘red mud’ industrial waste named UniSC’s top alumnus

red mud industrial waste

For every tonne of alumina manufactured, another tonne of red mud industrial waste is left behind. For the University of the Sunshine Coast’s 2023 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, it was a challenge she could not ignore.

“Red mud” – a bauxite residue – is now one of the most abundant and harmful industrial wastes on the planet, but Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) graduate, Cherrell Picton, is helping turn the environmental scourge into an asset.

“I had a lightbulb moment while a UniSC student: I really had to get involved in this red mud business. The opportunity to solve a major industry environmental problem was too big not to do something,” Picton said.

As Director and Business Manager at Alumtek Minerals, she is part of a team that has developed a process to extract the critical minerals vanadium, titanium and gallium from the red waste, and create a new product needed in the cement industry.

“We’ve found a way to turn this environmental and financial liability into an asset, and we are eliminating a waste product so we are contributing to the circular economy,” Picton said.

“Approximately 30 per cent of cement is fly ash from coal-fired power stations. With these starting to close, the cement industry has been scrambling to find a new and sustainable replacement, which we have also been able to provide.

Picton completed her EMBA at UniSC in 2019 after enrolling at the age of 59.

“The EMBA built on what I learned in the 1990s when business practices were different. The skills I learned at UniSC included the latest in entrepreneurship and innovation and gave me the confidence to take risks with our business startup while understanding how to minimise these risks,” Picton said.

“It opened my eyes to a whole new world of business opportunities.”

UniSC Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett said Picton’s work was an example of how industry could make a positive impact on sustainable practice.

“As a university that aligns its values with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, we applaud Cherrell’s valuable contribution to minimising the environmental impact of manufacturing, while commercialising its processes for others.”

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