Scientist Naomi McSweeney discovers a new species of bacteria which may radically change the alumina and aluminium industries.
Scientist Naomi McSweeney discovers a new species of bacteria which may radically change the alumina and aluminium industries. The Morning Bulletin

Discovery could save millions

FORMER Yeppoon woman Naomi McSweeney has discovered a new species of naturally-occurring bacteria that has the potential to save the alumina and aluminium industries millions of dollars.

Naomi is now a leading scientist and discovered the new bacteria species during a collaborative project between Alcoa of Australia, CSIRO and the University of Western Australia.

The bacteria can successfully break down and remove sodium oxalate, an organic impurity produced during the refining of low-grade bauxite into alumina.

What they found was a potentially new genus of Proteobacteria and a new species of the known genus Halomonas which are able to use the carbon in the oxalate to grow.

The work was recently presented for the first time in public through Fresh Science, a national competition for early-career scientists.

Naomi was one of 16 winners from across Australia.

At a typical refinery, sodium oxalate forms by the tonne during the production of alumina.

It can affect the colour and the quality of the final product.

“Oxalate can be removed by combustion, but this process releases excess carbon dioxide,” Naomi said.

Alcoa has installed an innovative large-scale bioreactor which has the capability to remove 40 tonnes a day of sodium oxalate produced at its Kwinana refinery in WA.

“Using bacteria to break down and remove oxalate is a better, more sustainable alternative.”



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