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The Canadian prairies have incredible clay resources. And we have natural gas. More than a century ago this was noted and a large scale ceramic industry grew in this area because they recognized the presence of these two essential ingredients. These two things are still here today. But what other things are needed? Ceramic manufacturing now is a hi-tech industry, leading the world in many fields (e.g. robotics, dust-pressing, ink-jet printing, powder and slurry processing, plastic forming, refractories, abrasion and heat resistance, hard surfacing, additive manufacturing, zero thermal expansion products, insulating products, 3D printing of structures) and leading countries (like Spain, Italy, Turkey, Vietnam, Middle East) have many research organizations working on basic science. The ceramic industry worldwide (companies firing minerals in kilns to produce products) is the largest single user of energy. Amazingly, many ceramic manufacturers are located in areas where energy is expensive and clays are distant, they are able to thrive because of their innovative and approach.
In Alberta (and Saskatchewan) we know technology. The oil and mining industries have been developing it for decades, they are world leaders in many areas. There are many parallels and overlaps between them and ceramics. For example, wel-sites process drilling mud (which is clay and barite, both ceramic minerals) using screen separators, centrifuges, pumps and mixers, they do it using a continuous process capable of high volumes. This equipment could be employed to refine clays to make them more than suitable for the manufacture of tile, tableware, porcelain, sanitaryware and more (processing that is impossible now because of the lack of equipment). The oil industry (and cement) are highly qualified in the design and use of boilers, tunnel driers, calciners, furnaces, burner systems; all of these are essential in ceramic manufacture. And they are experts in process control, mineral and chemical characterization, lab procedures and equipment. The mining industry has expertise in particle size reduction, grinding hard powders to micron sizes for extraction of metals; these again are essential technologies needed by a ceramic industry.
To reflect on the pervasiveness of the ceramic industry, consider just sitting in a room. You are surrounded on all sides by products made using ceramic processes and and millions of tons of ceramic materials (e.g. paints and inks, plastics, metals, glass, porcelain, cement, paper, rubber, fibreglass). But the most striking of all is the color you see. Almost all industrial products are colored using inorganic pigments made by the ceramic industry. To not be producing any of the basic materials or the products in a location that sits right on top of hundreds of meters of clays layered down since the Jurassic age! Few places in the world have the two key advantages that we have.
Most people do not even know what a "ceramic engineer" is. Most would think of pottery. But these engineers are responsible for many of the components in our cell phones! For Gorilla glass. For super conductors, they are ceramic. Even precision metal parts, like the gears in the transmission of your car, are produced by powder-pressing and firing in a kiln (making them ceramic). The oldest professional organization in North America is the American Ceramic Society! It is also the oldest technical profession in history. Ceramic engineering is extremely important in most parts of the world. Except here! Why?
More information coming here about what is needed to bring the ceramic industry back. All the pieces are here, what is needed is dreamers, innovators and investors. And a supply industry the producers can rely on. We will soon start by showcasing the quality of the clays available here and what could be made from them. You will be able to order a coffee mug made from them and every time you take a drink you will be reminded of what we could have here again!