The mines are long gone from Cobalt, but a processing facility in Coleman Township remains as the only productive tie to the industry.
SMC Canada's McAlpine Mill has been processing slag and ore to recover precious metals since 1998 at a plant formerly owned by Agnico Eagle.
“We deal with large, multi-national companies and have customers from around the world,” said Dan Cleroux, manager and vice-president of SMC Canada.
Slag, which comes from refineries, and mined ore is upgraded to a higher concentrate of the precious metals at the plant and then shipped to a refinery for further processing where the precious metals can be poured into bullion.
The concentrates produced are a result of the circuits – gravity and flotation – that are utilized at the plant.
“We also do custom milling for customers and bulk samples,” Cleroux said. “We have three circuits that include 200 tons a day, 50 tons a day and a five tons a day.”
SMC Canada is owned by Sabin Metal Corp. which is based in the U.S. It has been in operation for more than 60 years and started in the base metal scrap business. The company grew, and it expanded to include precious metals. Sabin is also the largest gold trader in North America and trades on the New York and Chicago Mercantile Exchanges and on the London Platinum and Palladium Market.
The McAlpine Mill, which is the only Canadian operation of Sabin Metals, recovers gold, silver, platinum and palladium from materials that were previously considered uneconomical to reclaim.
“It may not be economical to remelt the slag or ore because of the large volume,” Cleroux said. “But if you crush and grind the slag, and remove some of the precious metals by way of conventional methods like gravity and flotation, it becomes economical.”
The slag and ore destined for the mill comes by rail, truck or boat from around the world and is transported to the site by truck.
The Agnico Eagle facility had been left on care and maintenance for about 10 years before SMC Canada took it over.
“The plant was in excellent condition. We looked at other places as far as Geraldton and in Quebec but we came back to here,” Cleroux said.
The mill employs about 20 people and during the summer, students are hired.
“We are busy since there is enough material to keep us here for quite a while and there is more coming,” he said. “We are always opened for custom milling but even though the plant is booked to the end of next year, there are gaps in between so we can accommodate them.”
The high price of precious metals has helped the company but there are some challenges.
Cleroux said energy costs are a concern, especially when it comes to decisions about capital investments.
“There is always a question about spending more capital dollars here or is it wiser to spend them outside of the province,” he said. “You always want a quick return on your money and you know that here, you pay through the nose for electricity.”
There are expansion plans for the facility, Cleroux said, but discussions are still at the corporate level.
“Things are good here and when we started, the price of gold was around $300 per ounce. Now it is five times that amount. As long as precious metals stay the same as they are now, we should do OK,” he said.