The New Zealand Institute for Minerals to Materials Research is building a new specialist minerals laboratory on the West Coast.
The institute was given $11 million by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and the new laboratory project is also backed by Development West Coast.
The move is in line with the current coalition government’s policy of shifting industrial focus from mining minerals to manufacturing value-added products from rare earth elements.
The MBIE says this sector is worth $3 billion a year, with $400 million of that generated by industry on the West Coast.
The lab is being built at the former Solid Energy site at the now-closed Spring Creek underground coal mine near Greymouth, as the site is an area suitable for planned ‘wet’ experiments.
Kirsty Hollis, the chief technical officer of the institute says the lab will cater for a nationwide demand for technical support.
The new facility will be available to provide support for the special needs of local mineral-based industries, handle sample preparations, and have metallurgical and heavy minerals separation capabilities.
“There’s a need for technical support here – not just on the Coast but wider New Zealand,” says Hollis.
“As well as needing to support the projects we’ve got going, we’ve got people coming to us saying, ‘look, we’ve got this issue, can you help us with it,’ and without having the research capability in terms of a laboratory, we can’t provide that support. It has to go off overseas.”
Hollis also sees the facility as having a major role in improving the economy of the region and believes the new laboratory will be a key driver in accelerating industrial growth in Westland.
She also hopes the lab will drive job growth on the Coast for experienced experts, newcomers to the industry and graduates.
“We want to build the skills and capabilities on the Coast. We want to enable our own research and development – we’ll provide technical support for regional and national mining operations, and we’ll promote local employment.”
The laboratory should be completed and operating by March.
By Peter Owens.