Newswise — Stamp sand, a leftover of Upper Michigan's defunct copper-mining industry, could serve as the bedrock of an economic boon.

Aesthetically unattractive—virtually nothing grows on stamp sand, and it looks like kitty litter—it is nonetheless a financial beauty. Stamp sand cover acres and is easily accessible. Plus, it is ideal for making roofing shingles, the biggest part of the $9 billion roofing industry.

Shingles are 30 percent asphalt and 70 percent rock granules. Those rocky granules are expensive: Manufacturers have to mine the rock, crush it, and add copper to retard the growth of moss, lichen, fungus, and algae. Stamp sand has already been mined and crushed, and it contains the copper naturally.

"We can use material that we already have," says Ralph Hodek, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University. "Recycling stamp sand is a very, very good thing. We're hoping not only to make a major financial impact for the area, but also to remove this unsightly material."

Hodek devised an additive and a process to better adhere the stamp sand to the asphalt. "It has to bind and hang on for twenty to thirty years," he says.

"We significantly improved the tenacity."

Michigan Tech alumnus Domenic Popko, of Big Traverse Bay, is the entrepreneur behind this enterprise. While at Michigan Tech's Institute for Materials Processing, he began his inquiry into exploiting the antimicrobial properties of stamp sands.

In the short term, the team hopes to establish a local plant that could employ up to forty people supplying stamp sand to the roofing industry. Eventually, they would like to develop a facility for manufacturing shingles that would employ three hundred people.

One man's trash is another man's treasure? "That's what they say," says Popko. "We'll see."