Metallurgical slags, by-products of Teck’s lead-zinc smelting and refining complex in Trail, B.C., are at the centre of a three-year research project led by the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Graduate students are looking at ways to extract and refine valuable rare elements from the slag, which can be used commercially in semiconductors and other electronic applications.
Much of this is unfolding at MIDAS (Metallurgical Industrial Development Acceleration and Studies), a fabrication lab located in Trail, where this project is able to flourish, along with other technical opportunities heating up in the region.
A Centre for Regional Innovation
From the outside, MIDAS could be another retail shop in a strip of small businesses, but inside, technology and innovation are at the forefront. The applied research, commercialization and digital fabrication training facility services the metallurgical sector that clusters around Teck’s Trail Operations. MIDAS makes advanced manufacturing technology—including 3D printing—accessible to many in West Kootenay, B.C.
MIDAS, a public-private enterprise initiated by the Kootenay Association of Science & Technology (KAST) and Fenix Advanced Materials, opened in 2016 to leverage the region’s technical talent, commercialize new products and technologies, and diversify the local economy.
“Part of the rationale for building MIDAS here in Trail is the proximity to Teck’s Trail Operations,” explains Amber Hayes, project director for MIDAS. Science & Technology (KAST) and Fenix Advanced Materials, opened in 2016 to leverage the region’s technical talent, commercialize new products and technologies, and diversify the local economy.
Community members tour MIDAS at its opening in 2016.
Regional companies use the facility and its equipment to supplement their business. For example, manufacturers can digitally print test prototypes in plastic before creating their products in wood or metal, training programs can be downloaded and accessed virtually, and aging equipment can be reverse-engineered. These disruptive technologies are not only being accessed by engineers, but also by resident artists, students and entrepreneurs.
“There is also a strong material stewardship opportunity with MIDAS for Trail Operations,” says Greg Richards, Superintendent, Knowledge Management, Trail Operations (pictured below). Greg is also a metallurgical engineer and serves as Chair of the Lower Columbia Community Development Team Society’s Metallurgical Committee, which works to advance business development and economic strength in Trail and surrounding areas.
“Being able to provide our by-products to MIDAS improves our ability to maximize the value of our materials across their life cycle while providing economic development opportunities for other companies and our region,” adds Greg.
When the facility was being commissioned, MIDAS also took the opportunity to gain critical safety expertise from Trail Operations.
Dallas Cain, Trail Operations’ Superintendent of Health and Safety, together with Chris D’Odorico, Manager of Health and Safety, supported MIDAS in developing the safety program for the site, which includes equipment operator training, lock-out procedures and facility safety management.
“MIDAS provided a real locus for the ideas that had been generated around regional metallurgical technology and innovation,” says Greg, recalling the number of discussions and attempts at something like MIDAS over the years. “I believe that MIDAS was the missing piece that we needed to help advance opportunities in our area.”