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Scanning electron micrograph of a new genus of beta-Proteobacteria responsible for the degradation of organic oxalate waste produced by Bayer processing

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A new genus of beta-Proteobacteria has been isolated from bioreactors treating oxalate wastes that are produced by Bayer refining of bauxite into alumina. The bacteria are indigenous to the alumina refinery environment and are capable of removing up to 40 tonnes of oxalate wastes produced on site at the Alcoa Kwinana refinery in Western Australia each day. The use of these bioreactors means that the oxalate wastes no longer have to be burned, which means the emission of excess CO2 and other stinky organic compounds can be avoided. It also means that the refinery doesn't need to construct and maintain expensive storage facilities for the oxalate wastes. The use of these bioreactor systems and these particular bacteria have significantly reduced the environmental footprint of the aluminium, alumina and bauxite industries. The bacteria (with a proposed name of Alkalihalobacillus oxalodevorans which literally means high pH- and high salt-loving rod shaped bacteria that eat oxalate) were isolated as part of a University of Western Australia PhD project by microbiologist Naomi McSweeney in conjuction with Alcoa World Alumina and the CSIRO Light Metals Flagship. Photo credit: Dr Kayley Usher (CSIRO Land and Water, Floreat WA, Australia).

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