White Pine refinery might try production of copper cathodes

Photo provided by PM Power Group Inc. Pictured from left are PM Power Group COO Zach Halkola, PM President Brent Zettl, U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman and state Rep. Scott Dianda at the White Pine Copper Refinery.

WHITE PINE — The White Pine Copper Refinery (WPCR) is planning to produce copper cathodes from tailings and stamp sands.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, the project would employ at least 15 people, company officials said.

“White Pine Copper Refinery is in the process of determining the economics of two previously unused resources for production of copper cathodes,” said Zachary Halkola, chief operating officer of PM Power Group, owner of the refinery.

“Lab-scale testing has proven positive and WPCR is working to determine the exact process to take these new raw material sources to full commercial output,” according to a PM Power press release. “Dick Barlock, who has been with WPCR for over 36 years and conducted similar tests in 2012, is the lead of the project.

“Current business plans in the first phase of the development call for a additional 15 jobs in White Pine based on potential project size,” according to the release. “If other opportunities arise, such as processing copper from stamp sands in the Keweenaw around Gay, Mich., it could create an opportunity to modify the existing tank house to handle significantly more cells and create significant additional employment for the area.”

The existing facility is fully permitted and can produce more than 3 million pounds of copper cathode material from solution annually, according to the release.

WPCR has offered to help develop a cost-effective solution to the long-standing stamp sand issue.

“Currently the EPA has provided funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to design and carry out the dredging work to remove 205,000 cubic yards of stamp sands, which is proposed to provide 5 to 7 years of protection for Buffalo Reef,” according to the release. “WPCR feels it would be prudent to look at long-term solutions using existing assets together with state and federal assistance going toward logistics and job creation while extracting value to help offset the costs. As it has now become increasingly more difficult to locate and economically develop new sources of copper-bearing materials including tailings and stamp sands.”

PM Power officials recently explained the process to legislators, showing the long-term value of using the Keweenaw sands as a resource.

“WPCR is of the opinion that if any permanent cleanup of the Keweenaw stamp sands is to occur, the…facility in White Pine could be a key asset to extract any remaining copper from those sands prior to putting them into a permanent resting place,” Halkola said. “Any cleanup of the Keweenaw stamp sands will need federal economic assistance, which is why we invited Rep. (Jack) Bergman to the site for a tour. The copper extraction could go hand-in-hand with other economically value-added projects, such as permanently storing the final sand material in the neighboring White Pine mine, an environmentally ideal solution. We are looking forward to partnering with various stakeholders, tribes, legislators and regulatory agencies. This has the potential to be a win-win for the environment and local economy.”

Said state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet: “The work being done at the White Pine facility is exactly what we, as a community, need to be investing in. I will continue to engage with local and state partners to find new ways to support continued job growth in this region.”