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Eighteen diverse solutions to help Alcoa Scale Away

March 23, 2020 Competitions 2
Online crowdsourcing competition Scale Away saw 92 innovators from across the globe sign up to develop novel and diverse solutions over 6 weeks that can address Alcoa's challenge to improve the descaling process at their Wagerup Alumina Refinery.
Boosting the efficiency of descaling at Wagerup

Alcoa's Australian operations represent one of the world’s largest integrated bauxite mining, alumina refining and aluminium smelting systems. Wagerup alumina refinery, which is 150 kilometres south of Western Australia’s capital city, Perth, commenced operations in 1984 and has an annual production capacity of 2.555 million metrics tons of alumina. It is one of the most environmentally and technologically advanced alumina refineries in the world.

During the refining process, which extracts alumina from bauxite, scale builds up significantly in numerous tanks, vessels and pipes, resulting in lost production due to reduction in available tank volume, and high costs and downtime associated with the descaling procedure. It is important to Alcoa to improve the descaling process and reduce the impact of scale to increase the overall efficiency of the refining process.

Access to 18 diverse and innovative solutions
Congratulations to the Scale Away winners:

First Prize (A$5,000): Aqua Prep (Peter Bradford and team)

Second prize (A$3,500): FLITE (Dan Cohen and Dr Ogan Gurel)

Third prize (A$1,500): SurfEllent (Brian Huskinson and Hadi Ghasemi)

In addition to awarding A$10,000 prize money, Alcoa is meeting with each of the winning teams to support the ongoing development of their solutions."


Scale Away First Prize

First Prize Team: Aqua Prep

Location: Melbourne

Background: Peter Bradford is an experienced owner and professional, with a demonstrated history of working in the civil engineering industry. Peter is Managing Director of Aqua Prep Pty Ltd, an Australian company that specialises in high pressure water jetting for concrete demolition and repair, surface preparation and industrial coatings.

Solution approach: The hydro demolition core hole attachment is the concept from which Aqua Prep would start on this project. By cutting and expanding the top access hatch and associated pipework, two opposite high pressure nozzles can be lowered, which will oscillate within the tank whilst rotating within the vessel to breakout the scale.

Aqua Prep would establish a small depot in Perth to tack additional works with Alcoa on to this project to build the business case to ensure long term development and support for a win-win scenario."


Scale Away Second Prize

Second Prize Team: FLITE

Location: Montreal, Canada

Background: Dan Cohen has 28 years of experience in science and technology innovation projects. Dr Ogan Gurel, MD PhD has 30 years of experience in scientific discovery and innovation ventures.

Solution approach: By transforming the surface of pipes to be superhydrophobic, our aim is to prevent the buildup of scale rather than to have to remove it at the end of a maintenance cycle. The FLITE approach is unique because we transform the surface in a patented process using energy pulses instead of adding a superhydrophobic coating which may have adhesion and durability problems.

Scale Away experience: It's a privilege to apply this technique for such an established, reputable worldwide company. Although the project has its risks, if it is successful, the impact will be felt in the industrial water treatment industry around the world, so we're very optimistic.

We are discussing the proof of concept with the client's engineering team, and hope to deliver something in Q2 for applied testing."


Scale Away Third Prize

Third Prize Team: SurfEllent

Location: Houston TX, USA

Background:  SurfEllent was founded in 2018 based on technology out of the University of Houston. Brian Huskinson, the CEO, spent 5 years at McKinsey & Company before joining SurfEllent. Prior to that, he completed a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University. SurfEllent’s CTO, Hadi Ghasemi, is a faculty member at the University of Houston and co-inventor of SurfEllent’s primary technology. He completed a PhD at the University of Toronto and a postdoc at MIT.

Solution approach: SurfEllent's novel coatings prevent solids from strongly adhering to other solid surfaces. Unlike many other coatings, which try to prevent nucleation and growth of solids on surfaces, our coatings limit the ability of solids to stick to surfaces after they have nucleated and begun growing, utilizing a physical concept known as 'stress localization.' This prevents large-scale buildup of scale and any other solids. We have the ability to customize formulations of our coatings to meet certain specifications, and we can tune the coating to (a) minimize the amount of buildup altogether and (b) make the scale far easier to remove using traditional pressurized water techniques.

Scale Away experience: We’re very excited about the prospects of utilizing our coatings in a new way to help improve Alcoa’s operations.  

We’re looking to quickly connect with engineers at Alcoa to align on next steps and critical proof-of-concept tests that need to be conducted."


Our sincere thanks to all 18 teams for their dedication and the innovative approaches that they submitted in response to Alcoa's descaling challenge. We look forward to hearing updates as to how Alcoa and the winning teams have further progressed towards the possible implementation of their solutions.

To keep up to date with the latest industry challenges, be sure to regularly check our competition portal.

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