In his past life Brent Gilchrist went for gold.
Now the former NHL player is after magnetite.
Gilchrist is president of Craigmont Industries and on Jan. 15 the company opened a magnetite plant at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley Mine near Likely, B.C.
“We identified Mount Polley as a high grade source of magnetite and we approached Imperial Metals and Mount Polley on a partnership basis,” Gilchrist said. “They are excellent operators who we’ve developed a great relationship with.”
Presently three shifts at the plant employ 18 people, a combination of locals and newcomers, and there’s a potential to increase production based on sales without having to build a bigger plant, Gilchrist explained.
Magnetite is taken out of the tailings, which in turn reduces the waste going to the tailings pond.
“We take the magnetite and upgrade it to a very high quality specification for a process called dense media separation, used in coal plants, water treatment plants and pot ash plants.”
As a very heavy mineral, magnetite can aid in producing clean coal.
The process of separating magnetite from copper tailings involves magnetic separation, grinding and quality control to ensure that client specifications are achieved.
Craigmont Industries built the plant to service the coal mines in Western Canada, said business manager Andrew Rockendale.
The location of the plant puts it in a good logistical reach of each of those coal mines who use the magnetite as part of their operations for cleaning coal.
Coal preparation technology has developed around the differences in specific gravities of coal and the ash. Typically a coal preparation plant consists of breaking the coal into smaller pieces and then screening the larger solid ash particles. The remaining coal and ash is mixed into a heavier than water fluid. In simple terms the lighter coal floats to the top of the “heavy media” fluid and the ash sink. Both coal and ash are then screened to maximize the recovery of the heavy media for reuse. The “washed” product is now ready for market. The more of this waste material that can be removed from coal, the greater its market value and the lower its transportation costs. Clean coal means higher profits for coal mining companies.
Magnetite from the plant is also sold as far away as Australia. It goes by truck, rail, ship and barges.
“It’s a very unique material,” Rockendale said.
Gilchrist played for the Montreal Canadiens at one point so he’s watching the playoffs and goaltender Carey Price with interest.
He grew up in Vernon and played for five NHL teams. He was with the Detroit Red Wings when they won the Stanley Cup in 1996.
His new profession, however, is a lot of fun, he said.
“Williams Lake is a great community. It’s got a great mining history, great mining currently and great mining future. There’s a lot of skilled labour. Every time we come up to visit the plant we enjoy ourselves. We love the area.”