Red Mud.

About the Project

Red mud is an industrial waste product from the aluminium oxide production. Besides mineral components, this residue consists of toxic heavy metals and alkaline remnants of caustic soda. Red mud is either released into rivers or disposed of in open landfills. Both have immense effects on the biosphere. This project attempts to demonstrate a possible application in ceramic glazes and earthenware. In addition to small dishes as material experiments, sculptural vases are reminiscent of industrial production plants, but also reminders of the red tainted buildings after the numerous catastrophes with red mud.

Individual Project, 2019

Social Design (MA)

Design Academy Eindhoven

An estimated 120 million tonnes of aluminium oxide are produced worldwide every year. Depending on the origin of the bauxite, at least three times the amount of red mud is deposited. If the mud is not discharged directly into watercourses and poisons them permanently, it is deposited in landfills that have to be permanently flooded with water, as the mud becomes respirable dust when it dries out and would spread in the air.

For my research I visited an aluminium oxide plant near Hamburg and received material samples for my experiments. The red mud used is processed in a pH-neutral way and compacted to chunks - thus safe for my tests using gloves and a facemask. The small dishes were used to test different concentrations and methods of processing red mud. Thus different amounts were worked directly into the clay. In addition, different methods of glaze were carried out, ranging from under-glaze, in-glaze to no-glaze. Thereby different surfaces and colours can be achieved, also depending on the temperature of firing. The strong alkaline effect of the residue is balanced out during firing, but the ceramic is not food-safe due to the contained heavy metals.

The video was made in the context of my research and the severe red mud disaster in Kolontár, Hungary in 2010. In this disaster the dam of a landfill broke and several thousand cubic metres of toxic mud caused long-term damage to the landscape. In the process of the video, a bowl is formed from this toxic mud.


The map on the left shows the rapid enlargement of the bauxite mining areas in Guinea from 2004 (75 km2) to 2019 (220 km2). As bauxite is quarried at the earth's surface, forests and settlements had to be given way for this.

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Jan-Micha Gamer