London design studios are exploring the uses of red mud as a construction material

Spotted: Red mud is an industrial waste product generated during the processing of bauxite into alumina. Red mud is made up of iron oxides which give its red colour. Around 95 per cent of the alumina globally produced is done using the Bayer process, which creates approximately 1 to 1.5 per cent of red mud for every tonne of alumina produced. However, only 1 to 2 per cent of this byproduct mud is put to use. 

UK-based design group ThusThat has collaborated with dynamic London architecture studio Tonkin Liu to explore whether this waste product could be used as a sustainable material resource. Luis Paco Böckelmann, from the studio, told Wallpaper that the economic incentive to find an afterlife for red mud is very low as it is classified as a hazardous material.  

“Given the limited resources in our world, all waste materials should be regarded as valuable materials, simply in the wrong shape and state, waiting for our imagination to transform them,” he added.

The team studied the relationship between red mud and water, specifically ocean saltwater which, the team said, could provide a safe route for handling and using red mud, as the water neutralises its alkalinity. 

ThusThat has studied two different options to treat the material, the first of which consists of soaking, washing and sieving the red mud to remove unwanted components. It is then treated like ceramic and processed just like clay. The alternative method treats the mud like cast concrete, firing the material first and then working it mechanically and casting it. For the Re-Made project, the collaborators are exploring both options. 

Tonkin Liu was thus able to come up with a new application for the material. The result is a tile-like product that can be used as part of garden water installations, as a roofing material, or to create habitats for fauna and flora as part of bioremediating the coast.

Ultimately the team hopes that red mud will be used in large-scale applications of the construction and architectural sectors. 

Written By: Katrina Lane

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