Sample PhD Environmental Engineering Dissertation Proposal

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Phosphogypsum and Red Mud Re-use in Infrastructure Projects at Ras AI-Khair Industrial City in Saudi Arabia

A Brief Description of the Project

Owing to the increase in construction projects in Saudi Arabia (KSA), there has been a surge in demand for the materials needed to meet the significant production and property development requirements (Alzara et al., 2016). This soaring demand for building materials reflects the dire need for houses, factories, schools, offices, dams, and roads, among other facilities, and the increasing quality standards and users’ specifications for buildings.

However, a prerequisite for development in any developing country such as KSA is to build up a sustainable infrastructure (Tabassi et al., 2016). Consequently, infrastructure provision is bound to generate a high demand for construction materials, for instance, stones, sand, tiles, and cement in large amounts. This demand, in effect, culminates in the depletion of the naturally available resources often utilized for property development.

In that way, the research can best assist the Royal Commission in looking beyond the service provider model focused on waste disposal towards a resource management strategy focused on protecting and generating value from new products, the reuse and recycling of secondary resources, and smart management land.

On the other hand, there are tons of mining waste from quarry and mining activities in mining and quarry areas located in Ras AI-Khair Industrial City. For illustration, the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (RCJY) and the operators Ma’aden Aluminium Company (MAC) and Ma’aden Phosphate Company (MPC) have realized the heaps of Bauxite Residual (Red Mud), and Phosphogypsum wastes amount generated annually and accumulated in the landfill without being used in any project.

While disposing of these wastes in landfills might seem like the easiest approach, a sustainable method would be recycling those waste and utilizing them as construction resources (Ouda et al., 2016). For example, red mud is believed to possess significant physical, chemical, and engineering properties and meet certain economic needs for building structures.

Thus, it can be profitably utilized in the construction industry (Mitra and Wee Kwan Tan, 2012). This will result in the conservation of natural resources and mitigate the environmental pollution caused by the mining wastes. -Therefore, the study will characterize the chemical, physical, geotechnical, mineralogical, and engineering properties of Phosphogypsum and Red Mud wastes in RIC.

The potential of these wastes as health and environmental hazards will also be explored. Accordingly, achieving a reuse and recycling rate that is As High As Reasonably Achievable and setting out to achieve this objective by close collaboration between RC and the operators Ma’aden Aluminium Company (MAC) and Ma’aden Phosphate Company (MPC).

Research Questions

What is the “end of waste” status of Phosphogypsum (PG) and Red Mud (RM) in RIC?

Can RM and PG wastes be sustainably used in infrastructure projects at RIC?

Can both PG and RM generated in RIC meet the requirement of “Demonstration of end of waste” as per the requirements outlined in the Waste Framework Directive and other international standards?

Background and rationale for the project

It is projected that Saudi Arabia’s population will reach 40 million by 2030 (Abdul Salam et al., 2014). Such population growth will call for more buildings, which will generate a huge demand for construction materials. According to Algahtany, Alhammadi, and Kashiwagi (2016), it is challenging to precisely approximate the actual construction needs of the SA about various types of building materials required for the execution of building and housing projects owing to the scarcity of data.

However, it is certain that in many developing nations, including KSA, the construction industry experiences serious shortages of necessary building materials, and this leads to inflated prices of construction raw materials (Kore and Vyas, 2016). This, in effect, results in the inequality between the supply and demand of those materials and continued depletion of the environment in the quest to scramble for dwindling building resources (Kumar, 2016).

On the other hand, most of these countries have millions of tons of Phosphogypsum and Red Mud wastes heaped on landfills unutilized. If some of the wastes could be utilized sustainably to be reused in construction projects, it would help tackle the imbalance between the demand and supply of essential building ingredients such as sand and cement.

Red and brown muds are the main materials generated from the extraction of alumina from bauxite, an aluminum-containing sedimentary rock. On the other hand, Phosphogypsum is the secondary material generated by the phosphorous fertilizer industry from phosphate-containing sedimentary rock. These materials were directly discharged to water bodies and landfills since the 1970s.

Ras Al Khair produces  6.11 Million tons per year of PG (PG) and 2.65 Million tons per year of RM, accounting for about 25 % of the region’s total waste (Elfaki, 2017). According to the Master Plan study for RIC, an onsite storage facility for RM and PG has been recommended and will cover 800 Hectares.

Nonetheless, there is a dire need to develop effective and sustainable measures to reclaim such amounts of waste if the nation is to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Red and brown mud and Phosphogypsum, either as individual materials or as a mixture, have been considered potential alternate construction materials.

Even though several studies have been carried out in this direction, most of them have focused on developed nations (Paschoa and Tranjan Filho, 1995; Esakku, Palanivelu and Joseph, 2003; Lahiri-Dutt, 2003; Mwegoha, 2008; Pamela A Meyer, Brown and Falk, 2008; Pamela A. Meyer, Brown and Falk, 2008; Plumlee and Morman, 2011; Chandrappa and Das, 2012; Doytch, Mendoza and Siriban, 2015; Moomen and Dewan, 2016).

There is very limited work on mining and waste utilization, focusing on emerging economies. Even in cases where such attempts have been made, the focus has been on few African countries. For instance, Hammond, (1988) conducted an almost similar study 30 years ago, which dealt with Ghana’s scenario.

However, the findings obtained from one country do not warrant extrapolation to another country due to varying geographical, economic and environmental factors. Accordingly, Al-ghamdi et al., (2017) carried out a study on waste recycling in KSA, however, the focus was on reclaiming construction demolition wastes and not mining or quarry. Even so, Al-ghamdi et al., (2017) study was not in the context of a PhD dissertation. Because of this, the study will provide most of the useful information about the characteristics, distribution, location and quantities of the wastes in the quest to find out how they can be utilized at Ras Al-Khair in Saudi Arabia.

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Research Objectives

The objectives of this research are to demonstrate the “end of waste” status of Phosphogypsum (PG) and Red Mud (RM), and provide the RC with adapted and/or modified Construction Specifications to promote the feasible use of large quantities of PG and RM in infrastructure projects at RIC.

The research will provide assessment of the feasibility of the reuse of Phosphogypsum and red mud generated by Ma’aden Phosphate Company (MPC) and Ma’aden Aluminium Company (MAC) at Ras Al Khair Minerais Industrial City (RIC). The research will also demonstrate, from a regulatory perspective, that both PG and RM can meet the requirement of “Demonstration of end of waste” as per the requirements outlined the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC).

Furthermore, the project will evaluate the characteristics of waste materials in terms of chemical, physical,   mineralogical, geotechnical and engineering properties in Ras Al-Khair. A range of reuse scenarios will be developed and agreed concerning various environmental and human health end uses in Ras Al-Khair and then determine whether to Adapt and/or Modify Royal Commission Construction Specifications.

The suggested methodological background

This study will adopt a quantitative research approach because it will involve using pre-existing statistical data gathered and generated by RC. The sampling process for RM and PG will be performed following established standards and guidance from United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU) and the United States (US) including the US Federal Highway Administration guidelines. (A detailed sampling procedure will be included in the dissertation). The researcher will liaise with Ma’aden Company to facilitate relevant lab results for both RM and PG based on international benchmark.

Secondary Data analysis will be used in this study where systematic reviews of the results provided by RC will be conducted. The data will be analyzed and systematically discussed. The application and uses deduced from the interpretation will be disseminated to Ras Al-Khair Industrial City construction sector in general but particularly, to roads infrastructure, sabkha Sediments (RIC East), cement company and buildings. At the conclusion, the research will provide the RC with adapted and/or modified Construction Specifications to promote the feasible use of large quantities of PG and RM in infrastructure projects.


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