University of Queensland SMI researcher Dr Tuan Nguyen has secured almost A$500,000 (US$361,350) to develop the gel technology that could transform the way refineries manage waste sustainably and economically.
Dr Nguyen said the gel had the potential to minimise pollution risks from red mud storage.
Red mud is the waste product generated by the production of aluminium oxide, or alumina.
"New and cost-effective technologies are urgently required to assist the refinery industry to operate with much improved environmental outcomes," he said.
"Safely storing and processing red mud is difficult, costly and time-consuming. But the gel chemically links mineral grains into stable and benign soil-like structures, so it can sustain plant root systems, resulting in a successful rehabilitation outcome.
"This will help massively with seepage management and red mud rehabilitation."
Dr Nguyen won a A$180,000 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship last week, while Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina have topped that up to almost A$500,000, contributing cash and in-kind support.
"This funding is an outcome of strong collaboration between research and the environment teams of industry partners Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited, which produce $6 billion of alumina a year," Dr Nguyen said.
"They accumulate millions of tons of red mud which is stored across 1,500 hectares of dams in Central Queensland."
Dr Nguyen recently joined SMI to work on research to develop cost-effective and sustainable technologies for rehabilitating red mud dams in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Research group leader Associate Professor Longbin Huang said the technology was an important part of a new research theme of ecological engineering of mine wastes.
"Tuan's appointment and the jump-start of this excellent funding opportunity are likely to lead to significant advancement of new technology to rehabilitate toxic red mud," he said.