5-Year Environment Strategy

We are committed to a 5-Year Environment Strategy to ensure reduction of our environmental risk profile, with an estimated spend of over $480M.

$418M
Spent to Date
$180M
Spent Locally (4680)
66
Projects Completed
5
Projects under Execution

Implementation

While we know what the environmental issues are, developing a solution that will eliminate their impact is complex. We are implementing the solutions where we have one, while other issues requiring further study and external help were brought into the engineering phase to determine the right option.

Mission

This program includes a portfolio of projects that have been prioritised to either improve environmental performance at QAL, or reduce the risk of QAL impacting the receiving environment. Its components consist of major capital expenditure combined with operational culture change.

Project Phases

Order of Magnitude

Identify what the issues are and the potential solutions.

Study

Study each of the proposed solutions to understand which solution will provide the best outcome.

Engineering

Detailed project design and planning to allow project execution.

Execution

Work on the ground to construct and complete the project.

Focus Areas

Air Quality

Our operations have potential to generate airborne dust, alkali emissions, and plant odour. We have investigated and upgraded components for storage, transfer and loading of bauxite, alumina and coal, and dust reduction. While these potential emissions do not impact human health we recognise the need to reduce them.

Air quality projects

We have installed an additional oxalate vent tank at a value of over $700,000 which adopts significantly improved separation technology, effectively reducing alkali aerosol emissions from leaving this section of the refinery.

The new project design was adopted and installed to allow precipitators to be filled from the bottom, which eliminates alkali misting previously caused by filling from the tank top following maintenance. This project, when completed will cost of over $2 million.

We have installed covers on the expansion joints to redirect any liquor downward to the bund in the event the expansion joint fails. The digestion spent liquour heater vents, which had potential to vent alkali to atmosphere, have been modified to redirect any vapour or liquor into the bund. At a cost of $1.94 million, these projects will enhance our safeguards against an alkali release and work in conjunction with digestion relief system improvements and manifolds on the precipitation tanks to allow them to be filled from the bottom.

QAL has implemented coal dust controls on the working coal stockpile to mitigate coal dust leaving QAL. Purpose-built irrigation guns, high-pressure dry misting systems on the reclaim hopper have been installed as part of this $2.12M project.

We committed over $1 million to installing a washing system on our longest bauxite conveyor. These works supress fine bauxite dust emissions emitted from the conveyor belt. This conveyor runs for almost 2 kilometres from the wharf to the mainland.

The Alkali Controls project will improve the responsiveness of QAL’s relief containment system which helps to reduce the likelihood and magnitude of an alkali relief event that has the potential to impact our community. We have installed new systems and controls across our operations under the alkali portfolio, including replacing an existing relief tank. To measure the success of these projects, we have set up an extensive network of monitoring stations onsite and in the community.

 

QAL is committed to mitigating alumina dust emissions. As part of the 5-Year Environment Strategy, we have committed to addressing alumina dust surrounding at our South Trees Island shed, and at the alumina ship loader located on the wharf. Over $58 million has been committed to alumina dust-reduction projects throughout the strategy which will eliminate visible dust emissions from those sources.

A particularly significant piece of work, the Alumina Loadout Dust Reduction project, will see over $28 million spent on addressing alumina dust emissions through installation of a new 360-tonne ship loader. The ship loader was shipped and installed at the QAL wharf in late 2023, and ensures there are no visible dust emissions under normal operations.

QAL’s ash dams are used to collect and store ash, which is a by-product of burning the coal we need to create steam. The ash is pumped from boilers to the ash dams using seawater as the transport medium. Seawater provides a benefit by mixing with the ash to create a natural salt crust, effectively binding the ash to surface of the dam. The dam projects significantly improve QAL’s ability to suppress the ash following rain events at a value of over $7 million.

Land

We have focused on improving operations surrounding segregation of raw materials, site waste and various process streams to ensure there is no risk to soil and groundwater.

Land projects

A new sulphuric acid storage facility was constructed with increased holding capacity to capture any spillages while also allowing for planned maintenance with ease of access.

QAL also constructed a dedicated $1.2 million onsite Waste Oil Management Facility.

QAL uses caustic as one of the key chemicals in the refinery process. Once delivered by ship, caustic is transferred to multiple storage tanks on South Trees Island and to the mainland via steel pipeline.

QAL has invested over $26 million to remediating the bunds and caustic holding tanks on South Trees Island. Works included construction of ring beams, liners, floors, a groundwater management system and designated lay-down yards. An additional $12.8 million was spent on a separate project to restore the integrity of the caustic pipeline extending from South Trees wharf to the mainland.

QAL has committed $4.3 million to refurbish the on-site sewerage treatment plant system. The plant captures and treats black water from across the site in accordance with environmental regulations. Cleaning and new infrastructure has been installed as part of the project.

Extensive improvements are underway to remediate bunds and drains across the site at QAL. These significant works address bunds, surfaces, and major sumps in the refinery to capture liquor, which is returned into the process and prevents runoff to unsealed ground. Throughout the duration of the strategy, QAL has committed more than $55 million to these projects.

QAL disposes of mineral waste using a dedicated on-site facility. In 2021, we completed construction on a 420,000 square-metre expansion, installation of a groundwater interception system, and drainage and road upgrades. This facility allows the ongoing safe disposal of mineral and process waste, which otherwise cannot be disposed of through local general services.

Bund remediation work to Sulphuric Acid Bund (4th St).  Current ATO on the use of the West tank (East Tank out of service) due to the degradation of the bund floor. 

Noise

We have reviewed and implemented processes and equipment that have potential to exceed noise limits beyond site. We introduced a ‘buy quiet’ program whereby quiet equipment is selected when replacements are required. Active monitoring is conducted while activites with potential to produce tonal noise take place, meaning those activities can be shut down if necessary.

Noise projects

QAL has spent $250,000 on the reinstatement of noise attenuation panels surrounding the Emergency Diesel Generators (EDG), which are used during peak electricity demand periods.

QAL understands activities such as hydro blasting and de-scaling require use of heavy-duty equipment that can create excessive noise. QAL has embedded noise management procedures to ensure our operations have minimal community impact. We also track noise using monitoring stations in the community, and actively monitor tonal noise on site.

Odour

Odours can be generated in the digestion process. While all odour sources cannot be eliminated, we have investigated and implemented technology that significantly reduces our odour profile in the community. Odour generated at the QAL Refinery continues to be a source of community concern. Odour is a by-product of the refining process, where condensate which contains organic materials reaches a high temperature and creates vapour. While not harmful to human health we recognise the odour can be unpleasant.

Odour projects

QAL has committed $23.5 million to address odour from digestion by capturing and preventing atmospheric release of odourous steam vapour from condensate receivers. To achieve this, QAL is commissioning three purpose-engineered barometric seawater condensers constructed of special alloy by the end of 2023.

Commissioning of the three Barometric Seawater Condenser units is expected to remove 75% of highly-offensive odour from Digestion at ground level in the community.

A $3.2M new thermal oxidiser was constructed in 2020 to provide additional capacity – 5 times the capability of the existing thermal oxidiser – for eliminating odours from digestion. The previous thermal oxidiser unit is used when the new unit is offline for maintenance, ensuring we have full odour destruction coverage. Working alongside a $860,000 project which allows vent gases to report to the Thermal Oxidiser unit, QAL’s capability to destroy odour is improved through these works.

The Evaporation Heaters project works to reduce QAL’s odour emissions footprint by a further 5% by redirecting odourous vent gases to the thermal oxidiser for destruction.

QAL trialled the Non-Thermal Plasma odour elimination technology between 2019 and 2020. This technology is usually used in pet food manufacturing, making QAL the first instance of use in an alumina refinery. The trial determined that while the technology was not effective for use on the volume of steam from relief tanks, it was extremely effective at reducing odorous steam emitted from the much smaller bad wash water tank, with 95% odour destruction efficiency from this odour source. QAL installed the new technology in early 2022 and was re-commissioned in October 2023.

Water

We have committed to improving the way we manage water at our tailings facility and across site through remediation works, pond and instrument upgrades, and infrastructure improvements.

Water projects

The construction of new reinforced concrete slab bund, sediment collection pit and valves in a material storage bin to separate bauxite from runoff that enters the neutralising pond. This project was completed in 2022 at a value of $1.9 million.

A new $2.2 million pond was constructed near material stockpiles to improve water management in these areas. A further $230,000 was dedicated to new instrumentation which allows us to better monitor the pond content and determine suitability for release.

To eliminate alumina spillages from the wharf, openings in the concrete deck were sealed. This project was completed at a cost of over $900,000.

QAL operates ponds across site to capture and treat runoff water from rain events. We have committed more than $8 million to upgrade ponds and infrastructure on the west side of the plant alone. These works included installation of new quality monitoring instruments with live data sharing capability, increased storage capacity and valve and drainage upgrades.

One of the largest projects in the 5-YES portfolio, this $38.5 million project replaced one of our waste lines, extending 9.5 kilometres from the refinery, over South Trees Inlet to the Residue Disposal Area (RDA). The pipe is constructed of steel and is responsible for carrying approximately half of the QAL’s tailings to the RDA. These tailings are the residue mud from the bauxite we process after the alumina has been removed.

During this project, environmental surveys detected a presence of the vulnerable water mouse. These small rodents are a strong indicator of wetland health due to their specialised diet and reliance on sediment, bank structure, and nesting habits.

Several projects were completed to fully encase areas of the Residue Disposal Area (RDA) to protect the surrounding coastal ecosystem, including habitat of the Black Breasted Button Quail, on Boyne Island. Since these projects were initiated, we have observed adult quails and their chicks in this habitat.

QAL has also constructed a sub-surface drain to minimise the risk from historic landfill sites on the mainland.

Included in the water management profile is the increased storage capacity of the East containment system, to capture stormwater runoff and the contents of the area’s largest tank. Additional storage capacity has been created through the construction of two tanks with a combined capacity of 13 megalitres and a drain to manage flow during major rain events. These works also ensure uninterrupted operation of process in major rainfall events. QAL has committed to $19.4M for this project.

In 2015, QAL commenced protection and restoration of the sand dune vegetation system which provides the habitat for the black-breasted
button quail (Turnix melanogaster) (BBBQ) at the Red Mud Dam. The BBBQ is listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Queensland Nature Conservation Act. The survival of the species at the Red Mud Dam is linked to the survival of the habitat. Prior to 2015, the presence of the BBBQ birds was only suspected.

The BBBQ is a small ground dwelling quail that relies on dense vegetation for cover from predators. We identified that the habitat was threatened by weed infestation, additionally the habitat had no protection from bushfires. With the targeted camera surveys, we were able to confirm that BBBQs are living and foraging in the habitat. With the habitat recovery well underway, the main additional threat to the BBBQ is non-native predators (mainly foxes). In 2022, QAL added a fox management program using Ecosure. Trapping occurred in October 2022, prior to the BBBQ breeding season. Three foxes were caught over a 2-week period. Fox trapping will be repeated in 2023.

A camera survey was conducted over a two-week period in November 2022 to determine the success of the fox trapping. During this survey, adult BBBQs were observed with young chicks for the first time, providing encouragement that habitat protection and restoration can be achieved within an industrial site.

 

5YES Updates

5-Year Environment Strategy | 5 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | 4 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | 3 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | 2.5 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | 2 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | 1 Year Update
Watch the video
5-Year Environment Strategy | Caustic Tank Project
Watch the video
For further information the 5-YES Implementation Plans are available
Back to top