A Visit to Lochaline Silica Mine
December 23, 2016
Anybody who has used the sheltered waters of Lochaline will be familiar with the large green shelters which house the sand extracted from the Silica Mine near the entrance to the loch. The mine is owned and operated by Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd, a joint venture between the Italian mining company Minerali Industriali and the global glass manufacturer NSG (owner of the famous Pilkington brand).
On a few occasions throughout the year, the mine opens its doors to small groups of visitors for a tour of the mine and its facilities. We were fortunate enough to secure places on one such tour at the end of 2016, and at half past 4 on a cold and dark December afternoon we arrived at the mine office, where we were equipped with hi viz jackets, hard hats and head torches. Our guide for the tour was the mine manager, Diego. We were warned during our safety brief how easy it would be to get lost in the many tunnels and chambers within the mine, so an additional three staff members accompanied us to ensure that we did not stray from the “flock”. The map shows the extent of this warren of “rooms and pillars” – a veritable maze!
With work in the mine over for the day, we were led through the brightly lit yard into the darkness, ascending a steep slope on the hillside to the mine entrance. The mine is unlit, so we had to rely on our head torches to illuminate the rough tracks made by the large dumper trucks which travel in to the mine face to collect the sand from the morning blasting. It is a 15 min drive each way to the face, which is currently some 2 miles into the hillside. The sand is then taken to the plant outside for crushing and grading and is eventually transported by sea to Glasgow, Runcorn and beyond.
Our final stop was at the small laboratory, where sand samples are tested to ensure consistency in the quality of the product. The main product is LQS85, a high quality silica sand with low iron content and exceptional whiteness, unique among UK sand sources. The sand is often referred to as “Low Iron Sand”. The sand is particularly suited for production of top quality flint glass and is valued for a range of other uses where consistent white colour and low iron content are demanded.
In addition to LQS85, Lochaline Mine has developed an additional sand grade, LQS500. This product is similar in appearance to LQS85 but with the iron content controlled at a slightly higher level. This product is a high purity silica sand suited for Clear glass production and is also suitable for any customers who require a white colour but where the absolute iron content is not critical.
You can read more about the mine at http://www.lochalinequartzsand.co.uk/