IN ANY other town the word "bauxite" doesn't mean much.
In Gladstone, pretty much everyone knows that bauxite is the red stuff that feeds the region's alumina refineries.
Another term that has become synonymous with the Gladstone Region is Yarwun 2, the $2.4 billion expansion of Rio Tinto Alcan's Yarwun Alumina refinery.
After five years of hard graft, Yarwun 2 passed its most historic landmark at the weekend.
The first bauxite was fed into the new facility and, for the first time, Yarwun 2 began producing alumina.
In effect, Yarwun 2 has stopped existing - it is now part of the overall refinery.
The facility's general manager of operations Mike Dunstan said the moment was a big one, especially considering it was a couple of years overdue. The financial crisis in 2008 threw a major spanner in the works, causing a severe slowdown.
Mr Dunstan is undeniably proud of the renovated facility. Its energy efficiency and labour productivity place it in the top 10% in the world.
While the first bauxite has entered the new facility and alumina is being produced, Mr Dunstan said it would be about 12 months before the plant was ramped up to full capacity.
He said the refinery would begin with small amounts, testing the process and gradually building up to full capacity.
Eventually the plant will produce 3.4 million tonnes each year, compared with the current capacity of 1.4 million.
One of the most revolutionary aspects of the expansion is the Jacketed Pipe Unit, which mixes caustic material with the bauxite in pipes rather than in a vessel. The method is more efficient.
"We're going to be here in 40 years," he said.
"Yarwun (refinery) is state-of-the-art. We've got the advantage of being able to process bauxite from Weipa very efficiently."
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