A minerals industry research organization has released the outcomes of a new study that showed that while collaborative research into the alumina industry is active and progressive, the nature of collaboration must be broadened.

A minerals industry research organization has released the outcomes of a new study that showed that while collaborative research into the alumina industry is active and progressive, the nature of collaboration must be broadened.

A key finding of a paper titled Pathways to a Sustainable Future Through Collaboration, written by AMIRA International’s Program Manager Gray Bailey and Managing Director Joe Cucuzza, is that a step change is required in order to significantly transform the alumina industry and take it to a new level. The paper was presented at the recent Alumina Quality Workshop in Perth, Western Australia. The Alumina Quality Workshop is a forum, established in 1988, to bring together the world’s alumina producers and their customers.

AMIRA International is a member-based organization of minerals companies and suppliers, which develops, brokers and facilitates collaborative research projects. It has been operating since 1959, and has bases in Australia, South Africa, the USA and Chile.

The authors found that as alumina companies move to cut costs, they risk missing the opportunities and value of collaborative technology development. They report that innovation and collaboration are going to be critical to the development of enabling technologies to ensure the alumina industry is sustainable and companies remain competitive.

The authors pointed out that while two key breakthroughs—the electrolytic process to extract alumina and development of the Bayer process for making aluminum oxide from bauxite—have undergone improvement since the 19th century, the basic processes remain virtually unchanged.

“Historically, the highly competitive nature of the alumina industry has limited collaboration. Within tight budgetary constraints, which now seem the norm in the alumina industry, sharing the cost of potentially process-changing work has to be appealing,” the authors said.

Bailey and Cucuzza cited arguments for collaboration in the alumina sector, including leverage from sharing the reduced research and development (R&D) expenditure, access to the intellectual property resulting from the research, increased R&D flexibility, access to external expertise and world-class research competency, shared outcomes based on focused research, and the opportunity of funding leverage through government assistance.

They added, “There is a perception that collaboration will threaten a company’s competitive advantage or that a competitor would get a ‘leg up’ or the administration is simply too hard to organize or manage. Understanding the sources of competitive advantage may allay fears and encourage greater collaboration. Technology development through collaboration makes sense, but the nature of collaboration needs broadening.”

Since 1988, AMIRA has developed and managed 42 collaborative projects for the alumina industry. Two recent examples are a project that reduces erosive wear of equipment by slurry flows, while the other is to test the hypothesis that the strength of alumina from the Bayer process may be closely connected to conditions applied during precipitation.

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