Lochaline Silica Sand Mine is the only underground silica sand mine in the UK and extracts silica of 99.8% purity from a five metre sequence. The sand is used for the manufacture of high quality glass for optical and other purposes.
Although the sand has been known about since the nineteenth century, the mine only opened in 1940. This was because of a combination of factors. Firstly the UK had a great demand for high quality glass for periscopes, gunsights and similar instruments. Secondly, traditional sources of the raw product had been cut off by World War II.
The product is extracted using traditional ‘pillar and stall’ (in Scotland ‘room and pillar’) techniques and it is believed to include over 30km of passages. The sand was transported by a small railway system and transported by boat for processing. As a result of sand that was dropped during transport to the pier, Lochaline was said to have the best beach in Scotland!
The mine closed in 2008 which was a great loss to the local economy. Happily, the mine re-opened in 2012, under a joint venture between Nippon Sheet Glass (the parent of Pilkington Glass) and the Italian firm Minerali Industriali. Product is processed on site before being shipped out via a dedicated pier.
More information is on the Lochaline Quartz Sand website at http://www.lochalinequartzsand.co.uk/.