Imperial students transform industrial waste into functional objects


The collection of items made from red mud

An Imperial team have transformed red mud, an industrial residue, into functional objects, opening up a new future for the previously unused material.

The team, which consists of Kevin Rouff, Guillermo Whittembury, Joris Olde-Rikkert and Luis Paco Böckelmann, are all studying Innovation Design Engineering, a course offered jointly by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art.

They have taken the toxic waste material and transformed it into a range of vibrant pottery, ceramics and glazes in a bid to highlight the overlooked value of waste products.

Intensely coloured

The intensely red-colour mud, otherwise known as bauxite residue, is a by-product of refining bauxite ore into alumina, the precursor to aluminium metal. It is mostly made of iron oxide, also known as rust, lending it its vibrant colour.

The residue is currently unused and stored in giant pits. These pits are so massive and vibrant that they can be observed from the International Space Station. For every part of aluminium produced, more than twice as much red mud is generated – this means 150 million tonnes of the residue is added to disposal sites each year.

NASA Earth Observatory image
NASA Earth Observatory image

Intrigued by the scale of the red mud and its colour, the student designers decided to explore the potential of this resource for replacing raw materials. The team worked closely with Alteo, one of the first alumina refineries in the world which is located in the south of France, and material experts from Imperial College London and KU Leuven, to transform the discarded by-product into a valuable material.

From terracotta red to dark mauve

Through tests and trying different processes, the team developed methods for creating a versatile ceramic and an alternative concrete known as a geopolymer. Once fired, the colour of the material varies from terracotta red to dark mauve.

In addition, the team utilised the chemical composition of the residue, consisting of several metal oxides, to make glazes composed of red mud into a wide array of colours, ranging between rusts, blues and blacks.

  • Items made from red mud
  • Items made from red mud
  • The making of items using red mud
  • Geopolymer concrete samples

    Geopolymer concrete samples

As part of a project called From Wasteland to Living Room, the designers transformed red mud into different functional tableware pieces such as cups, bowls, plates, vessels and teapots.

“We want to bring the material to your hands – to bring it from the backstage of wastelands into your living room. We need to re-evaluate the stigma around the term ‘waste’,” said Joris Olde Rikkert, one of the team.

Sustainable future

The team aim to both make people aware of the impact of materials taken for granted, like aluminium, and highlight the potential of their by-products. One of the team members, Kevin Rouff said: “We want people to see that Red Mud isn’t a ‘waste’, that industry is keen to find uses for it, and that using it is possible.”

They hope their project is a small step towards a more sustainable future in which waste will be considered as a valuable asset, and they hope it will promote more uses of the material.

The team behind From Wasteland to Living Room
The team behind From Wasteland to Living Room


Joanna Wilson

Joanna Wilson
Communications Division

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