Tailings Management

We manage impoundment facilities at active, inactive and closed sites around the world to store primarily two types of material—bauxite mine tailings and bauxite residue. Both materials are referred to generically as tailings.

Bauxite mine tailings are mud-like residues that remain after bauxite is washed at the mine site. Bauxite residue, which is a byproduct of the alumina refining process, consists of mud, some residual caustic soda and, in some cases, a coarse sand fraction.

Our strategic long-term goal for bauxite residue addresses our biggest challenge—reduce bauxite residue land storage requirements per metric ton of alumina produced by 15 percent by 2030 from a 2015 baseline. This metric remained steady through 2019, although we expect to see continued improvement with residue filtration technology now fully operational at our Kwinana and Pinjarra refineries in Australia.

Bauxite Residue Land Requirements

We conduct a risk assessment and develop an operational plan for each location. We review and update both of these as appropriate throughout the facility’s lifecycle.

Our risk assessment considers the following:

  • Physical and chemical risk of the impoundment facility;
  • Environmental risks, including earthquakes, droughts and heavy rainfall, that could impact the facility and its operation; and
  • Other risks external to Alcoa and the facility, including regulatory and permitting risks.

The operational plan identifies mitigation and control measures to eliminate or avoid risk to the extent practicable; reduce risk by minimizing the likelihood or potential consequence of an unwanted event or condition that poses a risk; and detect, respond to and minimize the consequences if an unwanted event or condition occurs that poses a risk.

Learn more in the full 2019 Alcoa Sustainability Report.

Case Study

    Dam Break Drill Boosts Emergency Preparedness

    A full-scale dam break drill at our Poços de Caldas location in Brazil helped ensure first responders, residents and our employees are prepared in the unlikely event of a failure from one of the site’s bauxite residue storage areas.

    Read more >