Engineering elegant solutions

12/08/2020 | 2 mins

Celebrated as one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers in 2019, UWA graduate Raj Kurup has come up with an environmentally safe and cheap way to treat and create value using sodium oxalate waste generated from bauxite refining.

The work provides a smart solution to remove the highly alkaline, toxic wastewater that is normally stored in lagoons for years.

Dr Kurup, who graduated with a Master of Engineering Science from UWA in 2002 and a PhD from Murdoch University, led a multidisciplinary engineering team that developed the ground-breaking system for dealing with the major waste problem for alumina producers.

“We showed that sometimes, complex – seemingly intractable – problems can have elegantly simple solutions.”

Dr Raj Kurup
Raj Kurup

The Smart Priming Oxalate Removal Enabler (SPORE) converts storage lagoons into anaerobic reactors producing valuable by-products, such as sodium carbonate and methane.

The process achieves this without the ongoing addition of pH neutralisation chemicals. It captures otherwise unrecoverable by-products from the sodium oxalate waste and allows the remediated lagoon to be used to treat fresh waste from the refinery.

Dr Kurup, also a UWA Convocation Councillor, said the team spent a year working on SPORE to demonstrate its ongoing effectiveness.

“We showed that sometimes, complex – seemingly intractable – problems can have elegantly simple solutions,” he said.

Apart from applying for a global patent for SPORE, Dr Kurup has been in discussions with two major aluminium producers about funding a trial of the system in Western Australia, and is seeking government grants to further support testing of the new technology.

He served as an adjunct associate professor in environmental engineering at UWA for seven years from 2008, supervising more than 30 research theses during this period.

Currently CEO of Environmental Engineers International Pty Ltd, Dr Kurup provides internship opportunities for final-year undergraduate, master's and research students to facilitate their industry work readiness after graduation.

Many interns have been employed within his firm or found employment through his network.

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