Great Salt Lake Minerals

OGDEN, UTAH, FIRM USES ALL-NATURAL PROCESS TO MAKE A HIGHLY REGARDED SPECIALTY FERTILIZER

Jan 4, 2012

Top Komatsu equipment and dealer support

To help grow certain foods such as fruits, nuts and vegetables, no product works like sulfate of potash (SOP, also known as potassium sulfate) specialty fertilizer. SOP delivers the potassium and sulfur that the plants need, without the harmful chloride that’s in standard fertilizer potassium. And according to Great Salt Lake Minerals, no sulfate of potash works as well as its SOP, which the company says has been shown to increase yields by 20 percent or more, while at the same time, making the foods taste better, look better and last longer on the shelf.

Headquartered in Ogden, Utah, Great Salt Lake Minerals (GSL Minerals) is a division of Compass Minerals. Key personnel include Site Manager Corey Milne, Operations Manager David Del Carlo, Ponds and Harvest Manager Kevin Smith, Sourcing Site Manager Mike Blankenstein and Maintenance Manager Dean Wehr.

With a work force of about 350 people, GSL Minerals is the only producer of SOP in North America and the only SOP certified as organic by the Organic Material Review Institute.

“No chemicals are used in making our SOP,” said GSL Minerals Sourcing Site Manager Mike Blankenstein. “Our products are contained in the water of the Great Salt Lake. We get them by drawing water from the lake, then allowing nature, in the way of evaporation, to take course over time. One visitor, after viewing our operation, described it by saying, ‘You’re not low-tech, you’re no-tech.’ In our business, that’s a great compliment.”

“The key to our SOP, which also works great for lawn products, golf courses and horticulture, is the Great Salt Lake itself,” noted Operations Manager David Del Carlo. “There may not be another lake in the world quite like it. It’s estimated it has as much as eight times the mineral content of the ocean. Our natural method of drawing out those minerals is time-consuming and somewhat labor-intensive, but the final product is unique, and well worth all the time and effort that goes into making it.”

In addition to SOP, GSL Minerals also produces salt, which is sold locally, primarily as road salt or water softener salt; and magnesium chloride, which is used to produce a flaky, ice-melt product and blended in a brine to reduce dust on gravel and dirt roads.

A three-year process

At 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, the Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. Tributary rivers bring small amounts of salt and other minerals into the lake, and because there is no outlet, that’s where they remain. GSL Minerals has leases from the State of Utah for mineral activity and pays royalties for each ton of product harvested.

The process of harvesting SOP, salt and magnesium chloride from the Great Salt Lake starts with a series of solar evaporation ponds (25,000 acres) on the west side of the lake. After evaporating for a year, brine from those ponds is transferred through a 21-mile canal, across the bottom of the lake, to more holding ponds (22,000 acres) on the east side of the lake.

From beginning to end, the all-natural evaporation process takes three years (if coal were used rather than solar heat, GSL Minerals estimates the evaporation process would require 14 million tons of coal per year). First, the salt crystallizes and falls to the bottom. The salt-free brine then goes to the next system of holding ponds where SOP crystallizes and falls to the bottom. The remaining brine goes to the next holding pond as magnesium chloride. After evaporation at each step, GSL Minerals harvests the products.

“We harvest nine months a year. In winter, a freeze or partial freeze helps to support the floor of the ponds,” said Blankenstein. “Without it, the machines are more apt to break through the floor and get stuck. Mid-size dozers with rippers loosen the salt and SOP and push them into windrows. Then, we use wheel loaders to load the material onto trucks and take it to the plants for refinement or to stockpile.”

Top equipment and dealer support

To produce, harvest and stockpile the salt and SOP, GSL Minerals has a large fleet of mobile equipment, including two Komatsu dozers (D275 and D65) and three WA500 wheel loaders.

“We’re a 24/7 operation and we run our machines as much as 6,000 hours a year,” said Del Carlo. “We do repairs and rebuilds as necessary, and we rarely sell or trade in anything. For the most part, we use our machines until they’re used up.”

“Because of all the salt, we’re tough on equipment,” noted Blankenstein. “It’s a difficult, highly corrosive environment. Nothing stays nice and shiny here for very long. It’s a case of, ‘If it works here, it will work anywhere.’ We’ve had most of our Komatsu units for several years, and they are holding up very well.

“When we buy equipment, we’re like everybody else; we want value, we want excellent productivity and uptime, and we want a supplier that can and will provide top parts and service support,” he stated. “Komatsu makes good equipment and Komatsu Equipment Company is a good supplier. We work closely with them to explain our needs and they support us well. Our Komatsu Equipment Company Sales Rep, Gary Rasmussen, takes good care of us. Everybody at Komatsu Equipment Company has always been very helpful. It’s a relationship that’s grown in recent years.”

One of the features of Komatsu equipment that Blankenstein appreciates is the KOMTRAX machine-monitoring system that comes standard with free communication on all new Komatsu machines.

“Komatsu Equipment Company trained us on how to use KOMTRAX, and it’s a fantastic tool,” attested Blankenstein. “It tells us machine location, rpms, idle time versus use time, maintenance reminders and much more. It’s a very valuable tool and it’s easy to use. I love it.”

Head-to-head tests

Since GSL Minerals is relatively new to Komatsu equipment, the company conducted tests to see how Komatsu stacks up to the brand the company used most often in the past.

“We’ve used the D275 in our stockpile and a WA500 to maintain salt piles for several years now, and they work great in those applications — the managers love them,” reported Blankenstein. “However, we’ve never used Komatsu dozers or loaders out in the ponds to harvest, so that’s where we did some head-to-head testing against the competition.”

GSL Minerals uses D65-class dozers (23-ton) and WA500-size wheel loaders (36-ton) to harvest minerals from the evaporation ponds.

“We wanted to see how the Komatsu units performed in terms of ability to do the work and their ability to handle the low-ground-pressure requirements,” said Blankenstein. “I took notes and used a stopwatch to determine cycle times and load times. The D65 and WA500 performed very well. The WA500 actually loaded the trucks so fast, it had to sit and wait about three minutes for the next truck to arrive. And as for handling the soft ground, several trucks broke through the floor during the test, but both of the Komatsus stayed dry throughout.”

Blankenstein says GSL Minerals will study the information it got from the tests to help make the overall operation as cost-effective as possible.

“In regard to equipment, it’s all about total ownership costs. Of course, the purchase price is important, but even more important are factors that add up over the life of the machine — things like machine availability (uptime), fuel consumption and the cost of repairs. We try to take it all into account when purchasing equipment. Generally speaking, I’d say Komatsu machines and Komatsu Equipment Company compare favorably to the competition.”

Still growing

GSL Minerals’ first evaporation ponds were constructed and filled in 1967; the first processing plant was built in 1969; and the first shipment of SOP went out in 1970. The company has grown substantially since that beginning and continues to grow.

“We’re the only U.S. provider of SOP,” said Blankenstein. “Our product is in high demand because it works, and we’re maxed out right now. We’re presently in a permitting process and hope to be approved to increase production by 60 percent over the next five years.

“The world’s population continues to grow, but there’s a finite amount of farmland,” he noted. “SOP helps produce more crops per acre and, because it’s organic, better crops. At GSL Minerals, we’re very proud of our products, and believe we’re part of the solution toward helping to feed a hungry planet.”