Repurposing byproducts from Teck Trail Operations could be a win-win-win for the entire region.
University scholars in applied science, local businesses and the regional economy may be well driven, one day, by new discoveries for smelting byproduct use through a $293,000 research partnership.
The multi-partnered project was initiated by KAST (Kootenay Association for Science and Technology) as a key element of its MIDAS (Metallurgical Industrial Development Acceleration & Studies) project, an applied research, commercialization and digital fabrication training facility slated to open in Trail this fall.
“There’s many complex levels to the partnership,” says MIDAS Project Director Amber Hayes. “But that’s part of making the project so exciting … to play on the assets the Trail community and our local region already has, to be able to add value through applied research.”
The three-year project challenges university researchers to find ways to sustainably extract and purify metals from lead-zinc smelting byproducts that can then be used by secondary industries in the Kootenays.
“While it is currently possible to extract secondary minerals from smelting byproducts, current technology is both cost-prohibitive and requires intensive use of chemicals,” says Lukas Bichler, the project’s research supervisor and associate professor of engineering at UBCO (University of British Columbia Okanagan). “Our aim is to develop new ways to extract valuable minerals and metals.”
In a nutshell, we have organizations that have identified an opportunity to work with a new material, Hayes explained.
“However, they need more technical assistance to actually do the research and see whether or not it will actually work,” she added. “And that’s where the Mitacs project comes in, because the federal level of funding for these types of programs support our businesses to have that idea tested.”
(Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years).
An example is Drop Designs, a sprocket manufacturer based in South Slocan.
“The company has a number of different technologies, one of which is a water cutter,” said Hayes. “So they are looking at using one of Teck’s manufacturing byproducts to replace an abrasive product they are currently importing – so it has environmental benefits and hopefully will provide a better property at less cost as well, if it were to work.”
The MIDAS facility and its industry partner, Fenix Advanced Materials, will become integral with the academia body from UBCO, particularly in Year 2 and Year 3 of the project.
“So again, for our area, it means not only are we getting the expertise and funding,” Hayes continued. “But we are also actually bringing some of the researchers here, so there really is a lot of wins for the partners involved.”
Using MIDAS’ high tech advances such as a 3D printer, 3D scanner and laser, are key in developing ways to use what’s already at the area’s back door.
“It’s a very competitive and strategic way to move forward, quite cutting edge,” Hayes said. “Hopefully the MIDAS and Mitacs program are going to be a really great case study,” she added. “And I’m hoping to demonstrate how rural communities can identify their assets and actually do some economic development around them using these types of technologies.”
If byproducts can be turned into value-added products locally, it’s good for everybody, adds Fenix CEO Don Freschi. “There are huge opportunities out there for people willing to take that chance.”
The research partnership received $161,000 in funding from Mitacs, and $132,000 from the project’s corporate partners Teck Metals Ltd., Drop Designs and Fenix Advanced Materials.
“Our refining processes result in materials that have the potential to generate further economic value, says Greg Richards, Teck Trail Operations superintendent of knowledge management. “We look forward to working closely with partners on this research initiative which aligns with our ongoing commitment to providing long-term economic benefits to local communities and the region.”