Sapphire mining company, Lava Blue, has joined with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) to turn kaolin clay into high-purity alumina (HPA).
HPA can be used to make LEDs and lithium ion batteries. If successful, this method would avoid having to use high-purity aluminium to make HPA, as managing director of Lava Blue, Michael McCann said.
“A cheaper path to production of HPA from kaolin has been demonstrated in the laboratory but has not previously been scaled up to an economic industrial scale,” said McCann.
The project aims to demonstrate that the method of extracting HPA from kaolin is economically and environmentally better than current production routes.
“The Lava Blue HPA project will erode the technical risks of scaling up HPA production from kaolin, while developing advanced controls that will deliver the critical quality control required for this high purity, specialised product,” said McCann.
Flexibility will be built into the production facility by ensuring that the pilot plant can produce different HPA products depending upon the commercial requirement.
In lithium ion batteries, HPA is used to produce ceramic-coated separators which separate the anode and the cathode, as project leader Dr Sara Couperthwaite said.
“The Lava Blue process is very versatile and we can utilise machine learning and artificial intelligence to make tailored HPA products from the same processing plant with slight adjustments in the process chemistry,” said Couperthwaite.
The $4.45 million project will include $645,000 of matched funding from the IMCRC for Lava Blue to advance their smart technologies in mineral processing plants.
“This research grant enables us to develop a manufacturing process and pilot plant that is capable of collecting large quantities of real-time data that can be data mined and used to enhance the performance of the process,” said Couperthwaite.
Currently, kaolin clay has no other commercial value, and the potential for this project to find a value stream for the product, could be transformative, said IMCRC CEO and managing director, David Chuter.
“Now is the time to capitalise on this competitive advantage by using industry-led research collaborations to explore emerging technologies that allow Australian businesses such as Lava Blue to diversify into new manufacturing opportunities and value chains,” said Chuter.