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Mining for ‘green’ tile

Business survival nowadays means adapting to change and working on projects that you never before imagined.

This idea is being put to practice at a subsidiary of the Idaho-Maryland Mining Corp. in Grass Valley, where research to make floor and wall tile from recycled ash and rock is cranking up.

Recycling tiles from rock waste was supposed to be a sidelight business when executives decided to seek approval to reopen the mine several years ago. But now the “green” tile business is quietly taking center stage at the historic mine, thanks to a growing demand for recycled floor and wall tile and other products.



“The U.S. market for tile is 3.25 billion square feet per year, and California has 21 percent of that market,” said Carl Frohme of the mine’s Golden Bear Ceramics subsidiary. “There is no major tile manufacturer in the western United States, and we are an absolutely ideal location for the market.”

According to David Watkinson, vice president for Idaho-Maryland locally, “Our goal for the next year is to construct a research and development facility here in Grass Valley.”




The company would eventually like to have a full tile plant here, but the lack of a large building in the area makes the plan difficult, according to Watkinson and other mine executives.

In the meantime, Golden Bear has produced a small amount of tiles for exhibition. Executives displayed the tiles at The Union’s recent Fall Home and Garden Show at the Nevada County fairgrounds, and about 3,000 square feet of them soon will be installed in an Auburn home for show purposes, as well.

Golden Bear also is working on patents needed for the technology to make the tiles.

The demand for recycled floor and wall tiles was reinforced when Golden Bear executives recently attended the West Coast Green Build Show in San Francisco. They talked to builders who couldn’t get their hands on enough of the tiles.

Many buildings are designed with recycled materials, “but builders are having trouble finding it,” according to Golden Bear materials manager Jim Wood.

When builders saw the tiles at the green show, “they wanted to know where they could get it,” Wood said.

Tile production by Golden Bear on a commercial scale still is several years away, he said.

Executives face hurdles in ramping up production. Faced with a local shortage of waste rock for the tiles, they decided to import organic fly ash and quarry dust to make the tiles.

“We still have a goal to use the tailings” from a productive mine, said technology manager Joseph Cochran. “But for now, we needed more material. By next year, we’ll have a demonstration line doing 3,600 square feet a day.”

Plans to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine remain on hold as a major environmental report is being compiled. The permitting process for the mine will take another year, Watkinson estimates. Area environmentalists have been watching the mine closely and have already raised concerns about the impact of mining on local watersheds.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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