LEADING minerals industry research organization AMIRA International has shared the outcomes of a new study showing that while collaborative research into the alumina industry is active and progressive, the nature of collaboration must be broadened.

In a recent paper titled ‘Pathways to a sustainable future through collaboration’ authored by AMIRA’s program manager Gray Bailey and managing director Joe Cucuzza, a key finding is that a step change is required to significantly transform the alumina industry and take it to a new level. The paper was presented at the Alumina Quality Workshop in Perth, Western Australia, a forum established in 1988 to bring together alumina producers and their customers.

The authors found that as alumina companies move to cut costs, they risk missing the opportunities and value of collaborative technology development. They report that innovation and collaboration are going to be critical to the development of enabling technologies to ensure the industry is sustainable and companies remain competitive.

They point out that while two key breakthroughs – the electrolytic process to extract alumina and development of the Bayer process for making aluminium oxide from bauxite – have undergone improvement since the 19th Century, the basic processes remain virtually unchanged.

“Historically, the highly-competitive nature of the alumina industry has limited collaboration. Within tight budgetary constraints which now seem the norm in the industry, sharing the cost of potentially process-changing work has to be appealing,” the authors say.

They cite compelling arguments for collaboration in the alumina sector, including leverage from sharing the reduced research and development expenditure, access to the intellectual property resulting from the research, increased R&D flexibility, access to external expertise and world-class research competency, shared outcomes based on focused research, and the opportunity of funding leverage through government assistance.

They add: “There is a perception that collaboration will threaten a company’s competitive advantage or that a competitor would get a ‘leg up’ or the administration is simply too hard to organize or manage. Understanding the sources of competitive advantage may allay fears and encourage greater collaboration. Technology development through collaboration makes sense, but the nature of collaboration needs broadening.”

AMIRA is a member-based organisation of minerals companies and suppliers which develops, brokers and facilitates collaborative research projects. It has been operating since 1959, and has bases in Australia, South Africa, the USA and Chile. Since 1988, it has developed and managed 42 collaborative projects for the alumina industry.

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