MONTECATINI / SALSI
MINIERA DI SAN CATALDO-PALO
mine (K) / San Cataldo / 1958 - 1988 / 2011 / MONTECATINI SALSI Campofranco
The Sicilian potash mining industry had a relatively short lifetime. Everything begun by chance in early 1950s, meanwhile the centuries-old sulfur mining industry was disappearing. Right at the Bosco-Stincone sulfur mine near San Cataldo, in fact, the Montecatini mining-chemical enterprise discovered a huge kainite deposit during some routine underground explorations in 1952. Since kainite is a mineral salt composed by potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate, Montecatini decided to invest in potash extraction and, subsequently, potash-based fertilizers production - of which Italy was completely import-depending at the time. During the following years an innovative enrichment process was set up within the company's research centre "Guido Donegani" in Novara, and then applied on site. The new San Cataldo mine was opened in 1958-60 on the site of the former Bosco-Stincone sulfur mine, and assigned to a new subsidiary called SALSI-Società Salifera Siciliana. For the first time in Sicily and Italy too, underground mining activities were completely automatized: several Joy excavators did the whole job, from drilling operations to the transport of the mineral. The main shaft (San Cataldo) was 500 m -deep with a diameter of 5, and had an initial extraction capacity of 300 t/h. In addition, a large flotation plant of 82 t/h was added to separate kainite from waste. The huge complex was then linked by a 18 km -long aerial ropeway to a chemical plant, located in Campofranco, where kainite was transformed into potash sulfate. The latter, finally, was delivered by railway to the synthetic fertilizers factory located in Porto Empedocle.
Already in 1962 the San Cataldo mine reached the extraction capacity of 758000 t, accounting for 73% of potash national production. A second underground deposit begun to be exploited in the same year, with the creation of two more shafts (Palo 1 and Palo 2). Consequently, in 1965 the flotation plant processing capacity was increased up to 150 t/h. In the second half of the 1960s San Cataldo-Palo mine exceeded one million t/y of extracted kainite, employing around 500-600 people. In 1968 Montedison (former Montecatini group), ANIC (state-owned petrochemical company) and EMS (Ente Minerario Siciliano, the regional mining department) signed an agreement about the future development of potash mining activities on the island. As result, ISPEA-Industria Sali Potassici e Affini was created. This one followed to SALSI in 1978, as Montedison decided to leave the potash sector and, in general, mining activities. Meanwhile, kainite deposits at San Cataldo were close to depletion. The main shaft was stopped in 1979, leaving operational only the flotation plant and the Palo section. These were closed respectively in 1986 and 1988.
Palo 1 (K) and 2 (K) shafts
San Cataldo (K) and Bosco (S) shafts
Adamo, S., Ramberti, L. (1979), "L'industria estrattiva del potassio in Italia", in L'industria mineraria, maggio-giugno 1979, pp. 161-170.
Cassetti, M. (1990), "Gli impianti minerari", in Schedatura dei beni culturali della provincia di Caltanissetta, Agrigento.
"Sviluppi produttivi della Montecatini", in La Chimica e l'Industria, vol. 43, n. 2, 1961, pp. 221-223.
Trincheri, G. (2001), Industrie chimiche in Italia dalle origini al 2000, Arvan, Mira.
A detailed article from 1979 about the potash mining industry in Sicily (in Italian).
Un mestiere per Tutuzzu (1961) | A short documentary movie by Montecatini Group showing its owned potash production centres in Sicily. The protagonist is a young shepherd, representing the poor economy of the region, who can take advandage of the new, modern potash industry to find a better job and then improve his condition. From 1:35 to 4:11 San Cataldo mine is shown.
La Settimana INCOM (11/5/1962) | Newsreel dedicated to potash mining industry in Sicily. From 0:22 to 2:33 San Cataldo mine is shown.