Metal Tech Alley: Forging the Path to The Industrial Circular Economy

Welcome to the “Road Trip Across BC” series from the BC CORE Cleantech Cluster.  In this week’s article, we travel to the Kootenays and showcase some leading industrial companies. We also celebrate Metal Tech Alley, an innovative cluster organization that is driving change and accelerating economic opportunities in the region.

The Kootenays: Shaping the Future of Metal Tech

When industry leaders all over the world look for guidance on how to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the circular economy, they visit Metal Tech Alley – a hotbed of industrial circular innovation in the heart of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.

A road trip to Metal Tech Alley is not only going to take you through some of BC’s most beautiful terrain, but also through cities and towns (including Trail, Rossland, Montrose, Fruitvale, and Wakefield) that are home to world-leading innovations in mineral and metal (industrial) recycling, secondary manufacturing, and metallurgy /advanced materials. 

Let’s Take the Tour!

This summer, in Trail, BC, Metal Tech Alley will be hosting the Industrial Circular Economy Conference (ICE2021) and offering facility tours for participants to see the industrial economy in action. As part of our virtual road trip, we thought we’d offer you a sneak preview of some of the entrepreneurial businesses you might see:

  • KC Recycling – The largest lead acid battery (car battery) recycler in Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States
  • Fenix Advanced Materials – A world-leading clean technology company specialized in the manufacture of ultra-high purity metals of up to 6N5+ (>99.99995%) level
  • Advanced Bio-Carbon 3D – A bioplastics company creating plastics that are carbon negative, non-toxic and biodegradable, with engineered grade quality. The plastics are made from wood using a closed loop system.

And let’s not forget Teck Resources, whose smelting operation in Trail is at the heart of the metals recycling circular loop economy in the region. A key industry partner, they were recently  recognized as one of the 2021 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations by Corporate Knight and have been a central hub in the Metal Tech Alley cluster.

Metalsmithing, History, and the Circular Economy

Metalsmithing is an ancient science and art form. The practice of taking metal from stone, forging and shaping it into useful products has created entire civilizations and been a vital force of industrialization and change. From the surge of bronze weapon making in the Shang Dynasty to Louis XIV melting down his dinner plates to pay his troops, metals and materials have been inexorably tied to a nation’s wealth and power.

Their importance today has not diminished. Today’s uses of metals and materials have moved beyond sword making and dinner plates, and beyond mid-century manufacturing uses into high tech, high energy applications: electric cars with lithium batteries, electrical grid infrastructure, computer memory, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, lighting (many relying on rare earth or precious metals).

Understanding how to recycle metals, knowing how to work metal using low carbon, energy-efficient methods, developing advanced bio-products that could replace metals – these are all vital to achieving CleanBC goals and building a new, prosperous circular economy centred in principles of sustainability.  

Metal Tech Alley: A Cluster Forms

Metal Tech Alley is a shining star in Canada’s growing circular economy ecosystem and an example of the catalyzing nature of a strategic cluster approach. Launched in 2017 as an economic development strategy focused on circular metals/industrial recycling, it has since grown into a world leading cluster of circular industrial innovation.

A cluster of companies and organizations that is energized, communicating, and sharing research and resources is a powerful force of economic prosperity. Metal Tech Alley, featured as a successful case study in both the CORE Cleantech Strategy report created for the Province of BC in 2020, and the recent “Circular North America”  discussion paper published by Environment and Climate Change Canada, shows the power of this approach. 

By building on the region’s unique characteristics and assets, including strengths in metallurgy and technology, an experienced workforce, supporting industry and academic partnerships, they have created something the whole province can celebrate – an economic cluster of significant value.

The circular economy is good economics. We tell our members; you can do it, you can do it better, and you can make more money doing it.”  – Jacomien van Tonder, Metal Tech Alley

Industry 4.0 – Adding Value, Improving Efficiency

While Metal Tech Alley has an industry-focus on metals and materials, the future of this innovation hub is looking outward toward the entire lifecycle of manufacturing in the industrial circular economy. 

They are asking the big questions about the future of manufacturing and are exploring what a highly efficient, recyclable model of manufacturing that uses intelligent data, automation, and robotics might look like in the context of a circular economy (and how they can accelerate growth in this area). 

The process of mining and forging metals was once thought of as close to magic  — an alchemical process that changed the fundamental nature of a substance into something new, better and more valuable. 

Metal Tech Alley is also forging something –  a new and better model for the industrial circular economy.   

And that is bringing something of high value to this province and to the whole country.

Well done, Metal Tech Alley! We can’t wait till we can travel again and enjoy all the beauty and innovative spirit the Kootenays have to offer. 

Are you a farmer looking to know more about this technology? Acterra/BioAgtive run weekly online meetings and Q&A sessions. Contact them today to find out more.

Download The Road to 2050 – Bridging the Gap Between Challenges and Solutions in Agriculture and Food for a list of program recommendations that would ensure farmers benefit from these emerging technologies.