How to extract iron from Red Mud

Arman H Kermani (to the right) and Per Ivar Friborg (to the left)

Meet Arman H Kermani (to the right) and Per Ivar Friborg (to the left) from NTNU doing small scale experiments at a SINTEF facility.

The aim of these experiments, conducted by Arman, is to be able to reduce red mud with hydrogen, producing iron. Red Mud is a waste from aluminium production, creating huge land fill deposits and a serious environmental problem. Among other valuable components, red mud also contains iron in the form of iron oxide. If we could be able to extract metals from the red mud, we would solve an environmental problem and produce something valuable at the same time.

To produce iron from iron oxide, we need to reduce the oxide, which means we need to remove oxygen atoms from iron atoms. In theory this can be done by adding hydrogen. The hydrogen can react with oxygen and for water and the iron will be left alone – as iron metal. In other words: We can add hydrogen to red mud and produce iron metal and water will be the only biproduct.

Too good to be true? It is quite challenging and a lot more complicated in practice. That is why Arman is currently working in the lab; trying to figure out and solving all the complications. Per Ivar is conducting a hydrogen leak test before startup, since hydrogen is explosive and makes the safety an additional challenge.

The pellets have been analyzed Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with an x-ray diffraction (XRD) detector. This detector can measure so-called characteristic x-rays coming from the material when illuminated by electrons. These characteristic x-rays are like a fingerprint for the elements and we can therefore conclude that Arman has been able to produce iron.

In the picture you can see Arman by the SEM, a picture from the Sem, the x-ray-detector, the sample end the curve with the peak of characteristic x-rays from iron (Fe).