Alcoa announces funding for new Forest Research Centre

17 May 2024

Alcoa Environmental Research Scientists Dr Lucy Commander, left, and Dr Justine Barker set a trap as part of research into trapdoor spiders.
Alcoa Australia will enhance its longstanding commitment to protecting, restoring and sharing knowledge about the forest by establishing a dedicated research centre.

Aligned to the company’s bauxite mining operations in select areas of the Northern Jarrah Forest in Western Australia’s Darling Range, the Forest Research Centre will receive $9.9 million of Alcoa research funding over the next five years.

Alcoa is also increasing its internal environmental research team from four to 11 staff and upgrading existing facilities at several of its WA locations to support the research programs.

Interim Vice President of Operations Australia Tanya Simmonds said the Forest Research Centre would build on the decades of research that has seen the company receive several accolades for its excellence in environmental management.

“Over the past 50 years, we’ve maintained an inhouse team of environmental researchers and contributed to collaborative projects, leading to significant progress in rehabilitation outcomes, water management, fauna management and return, and countless other advancements in environmental stewardship,” Ms Simmonds said.

“Through the Forest Research Centre we aim not only to expand understanding of the forest, but contribute to improving overall forest health, as well as facilitating wide reaching application of the science across all manner of land uses and forest management globally.”

The centre will embrace several existing environmental research projects and provide a platform for research into the future. Research will address five core pillars, continuing Alcoa’s focus on plant diversity return, fauna recolonisation and water stewardship, while introducing new areas of research to support forest conservation beyond mining and embrace Indigenous cultural values and practices through a “two-way” science program.

Ms Simmonds announced the Forest Research Centre at the Alcoa Environmental Symposium held at Perth’s Murdoch University on 16 May 2024. The event brought together over 100 researchers, academics, and industry and government stakeholders to share information on environmental research related to flora, fauna, water and climate.

Professor Treena Burgess, Executive Director of Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute, welcomed the announcement and said the Forest Research Centre would enhance opportunities for ongoing improvement in environmental performance.

“Murdoch University and Alcoa have longstanding research collaborations focused on critical environmental challenges associated with mineral extraction, including fauna conservation, ecosystem restoration, and dieback management,” Prof. Burgess said.

“The work that comes out of the new Forest Research Centre is likely to have broad, positive impacts on mine rehabilitation and sustainable land use.”

Ms Simmonds added that the Forest Research Centre would provide researchers with access to an extensive “living laboratory” covering unmined forest areas, rehabilitation from over the past 50 years and areas where mining has recently ceased, providing a broad range of research opportunities for both established researchers and students.

“Having this resource in close proximity to Perth and other key regional centres provides exceptional value as a training ground for the next generation of environmental specialists and we hope to grow on our current program of supporting Masters and PhD students with research aligned with the centre’s focus areas,” she said.

Alongside its own investment, Alcoa aims for the centre to attract additional collaborative research funding. A governance committee will be established in coming months with the first new research projects expected to commence in early 2025.