Locating alternative sand sources for Michigan's foundry industry: A geographical approach


Brad Schrotenboer and Alan F. Arbogast


          Numerous large coastal dune fields occur on the western coast of Lower Michigan. These dunes are an important ecological, geological, and recreational resource in the state. They also serve as a significant source of foundry sand for Michigan's automotive industry and thus have been mined intensively. Although Michigan contains extensive sand deposits besides those in coastal dunes, no studies have yet investigated alternative foundry sources from a distinct geographical perspective. Acceptable alternative sand deposits must be sufficiently large and close to transportation networks to be economically viable. Using a GIS, water-well log stratigraphic data were employed to estimate sand thickness and rail line data were used to determine accessibility of deposits. Based on this information, 53 sites in 16 counties were selected, sampled, and tested for appropriate physical and chemical characteristics to determine their viability as inland sources of foundry sand. Results indicate that many cubic kilometers of inland sand suitable for foundry use are in close proximity to existing transportation networks. Three regions that show the most potential to be inland sand sources for the foundry industry are: 1) Wexford and southeastern Grand Traverse Counties, 2) northern Newaygo and southern Lake Counties, and 3) central Alger County. Sand in these areas will likely require preprocessing but should nonetheless be considered as a feasible and more ethically responsible alternative to mining coastal dunes.