June 11, 2009 — The St. Croix Renaissance Park has found several commercial uses for its enormous red hillock of dusty bauxite tailings at the former Alcoa aluminum plant and hopes, if not to sell the tailings at a profit, to unload it for no or low cost.
"We've been working with the red mud with two different companies and just recently now, a third, and just signed into a joint venture with one," Jack Thomas, the company's senior vice president of development, told the listeners at Rotary of St. Croix's weekly speaker's luncheon at Gertrude's Restaurant Thursday.
"Oddly enough, the red mud is a perfect material for remediation of acid and contamination from arsenic and other heavy metals," he said.
The red mud or dust is left over from refining aluminum, and while caustic, does not contain metals or other insidious materials and is not considered a hazardous waste, he said. Its high ph makes the tailings caustic but also makes it useful for remediation of contaminated industrial lands, or brownfields, that have acids in the soil, and its chemical properties help it bind with and neutralize some metals. There are plans in the works to palletize and ship off some of the tailings for use in remediating some natural and man-made uranium wastes.
The usefulness of the tailings is something of a happy accident. Most of the time, these sorts of tailings are stored in ponds, mixed in with other refining waste, so there is no way to separate out the undesirable metals and other contaminants, he said.
The stuff is also good as an admixture in making bricks, and may be useful for capping the Anguilla landfill too, he said.
"We're working with a (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professor and a capital company on possibly sequestering CO2 too," he said. "If it turns out the red mud can capture the CO2, if that happens we won't need anybody else for anything. It'd be a big splash."
These possibilities won't necessarily turn a large profit, but they may make it easier and less expensive to dispose of the tailings, he clarified later.
Meanwhile, Thomas feels Renaissance Group is poised to continue growing by bringing more corporate tenants to its 1,200-acre heavy industry park. Diageo plans to begin construction on its Captain Morgan Rum distillery in August. While the existing Geonet Ethanol plant is currently idle due to shifts in ethanol prices and demand, it should resume production soon, and several new tenants may be on the way soon, Thomas said.
"Clearly Diageo has acted as a cowbell and other distillers have begun now to look seriously at St. Croix," he said, suggesting there could eventually be a number of distilleries.
"We have 1,200 acres, while Diageo is only 26 acres, and even the ethanol plant, they don't encompass more than 15 or 20 acres. The fact of the matter is you could have 20 of these tenants ultimately."
Distilleries are not the only tenants they are pursuing.
"We are pretty close to bringing in a local tenant to allow the local importation of cement in bulk, along with an additional cement block plant and all that goes with that," he said.
With its own port facility, the Renaissance Group is hoping to become a 24-hour port facility, which doesnt exist on St. Croix currently, and can save large amounts on transportation costs because fewer ships will spend extra time, fuel and money anchoring offshore overnight.
The overall message the Renaissance Group vice president conveyed to Rotary was St. Croix Renaissance Group and its Renaissance Park expect steady growth and success over the upcoming years.