Bauxite residue (Red Mud) increases phosphorus retention in sandy soil catchments in Western Australia

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Publication Date


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Fertilizer Research


phosphorus, eutrophication, bauxite residue, soil amendment


The Peel-Harvey estuary on the Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia has become eutrophic partly because of the leaching of fertiliser phosphorus from sandy soils. The acid, coarse textured sandy soils are predominantly quartz, have a low iron and aluminium content and do not retain phosphorus. Red mud, derived from bauxite, is a by-product of the alumina industry and has the ability to retain phosphorus. Retention of phosphorus is enhanced when the red mud is neutralised with gypsum. Red mud has been suggested as a soil amendment to reduce phosphorus leaching. To investigate the reduction in the leaching of phosphorus from soils amended with red mud, weirs were constructed at the outlets from a pair of catchments to quantify the amount of phosphorus in the strearnflow. Both catchments were deep grey Bassendean sand. One of the catchments was treated with 80 t/ha of red mud which had been neutralised with waste gypsum from the phosphate industry. The red mud was applied to the soil surface using conventional fertiliser spreading equipment. The other catchment was untreated. The red mud reduced phosphorus loss by 70% from 13.8 kg/ha on the untreated catchment, to 4.2 kg/ha on the treated catchment. Both catchments were treated with 20.4 kg/ha of phosphorus as superphosphate. The catchment treated with red mud also received a further 41.5 kg/ha of phosphorus from the phosphogypsum that was used to neutralise the red mud. Our results show that red mud reduces phosphorus leaching and is potentially a nutrient management option in sandy soils. Red mud has the potential to reduce the impact of agriculture on the estuarine environment and has implications for the continued expansion and intensification of agriculture in the Peel-Harvey catchment.