Albert Frei & Sons transforms waste into commodity

By |  January 3, 2018

Albert Frei & Sons’ manufactured washed sand product. Photos by Kevin Yanik

Mine a ton, sell a ton.

That’s the new mantra at Albert Frei & Sons, a Colorado aggregate producer who, like a number of other operations, generates a percentage of materials that are ultimately unsellable.

At Albert Frei & Sons’ Walstrum Quarry, 6 million tons of crusher fines produced over the years reside at the company’s more remote, space-strapped site outside of Denver. And there’s unfortunately no market for those fines in their current state.

Operation leaders have, however, embarked on a mission to refine those products and develop a market for them that will increase the company’s sales, minimize its waste and provide a useful alternative solution for customers in need of concrete sand.

“We’ve figured out how to clean up our crusher fines,” says Albert Frei Jr., company president. “We’ve gone from like a 12 percent on the 200 [sieve] down to a 5 percent in a dry process. And in the next phase, we’re washing crusher fines and providing a substitute for concrete [sand]. We’re making a manufactured washed sand.”

Ahead of the curve

According to Frei, ready-mix concrete producers in the Denver area currently have to source sand from faraway locations. The market’s most ideally situated alluvial pits have reached their ends, he says, forcing concrete producers to go the extra distance for sand – or explore more economically feasible substitutes.

This brings Albert Frei & Sons’ manufactured washed sand product into the fold.

“Aggregate is no different than wheat,” Frei says. “It’s a commodity, all driven by supply and demand and availability of the product.”
Frei sees his company’s manufactured washed sand as a viable alternative. Now, it’s just a matter of reconditioning concrete producers to adopt a manufactured product.

“The market is not quite there yet because there is still an abundance of alluvial sand down in the Platte River, but it’s close,” Frei says. “We’re ahead of the curve on this. The real challenge will be changing the ready-mix culture to use washed, manufactured sand versus natural alluvial sand.”

No one else in the region is producing a manufactured washed sand like Albert Frei & Sons at the moment, Frei says.

“We’re still developing it, honing in on the equipment for it,” he adds. “This is the future for ‘mine a ton, sell a ton.’ If we can get this product developed into the market, we’ll be at a zero balance where we’ll be able to sell everything we mine.”

Frei sees a market developing for the manufactured washed sand in the next three to five years.

“We’re about a year [and a half] into developing it,” Frei says. “We have a ready-mix customer trying it who’s doing some strength testing and testing pumpability and finishability. It’s doable, and it happens all over the East and other places where there are no natural sands.”

Albert Frei & Sons is currently producing about 50 tph of the manufactured washed sand, but it anticipates upping production to 150 tph once a system is fully developed.

Another success story

Photo by Kevin Yanik

Riprap and boulders represent about 15 percent of Albert Frei & Sons’ revenue, yet only 2 percent of its volume, President Albert Frei Jr. says.

While Albert Frei & Sons develops that market, it continues to excel with riprap and boulders, which collectively represent about 15 percent of the company’s revenue yet only 2 percent of its volume.

“The pricing is very lucrative for riprap products,” Frei says. “Most of it is driven by boulders.”

According to Frei, Colorado’s Front Range is very susceptible to flash flooding. The nature of the region’s riverbeds creates a number of opportunities for the operation.

In fact, the operation is still providing boulders for a flood event that took place in 2013.

“We’re the only quarry in the area that really does urban drainage-sized boulders,” Frei says. “Everyone else is pretty much doing construction aggregates; they don’t have a strong emphasis on boulders. We have a full-time operation that’s really dedicated to boulders.”

Boulder production may be unattractive to others in the region because of the precise specification demands of customers, Frei says.

“The [Urban Drainage and] Flood [Control] District wants specific-sized boulders, and it’s very difficult to manage,” Frei says. “They want boulders to be natural looking because they’re putting them in these riparian areas. The specs are difficult, and it’s very difficult to make.”

Because Albert Frei & Sons handles its own drilling and blasting, it can easily open blast patterns if the operation is running short on boulders, Frei says. The operation also possesses the appropriate loading tools to handle such massive rocks.

The riprap circuit

Photo by Kevin Yanik

The operation added a new riprap screen about a year ago.

For riprap, Albert Frei & Sons has a circuit dedicated specifically to it.

“Our riprap circuit includes a Metso 60-in. x 48-in. riprap feeder and a Deister 6-ft. x 20-ft. deck riprap screen,” Frei says. “This is its own separate circuit where we make riprap. The riprap feeder is a little older, but we just put in this riprap screen in November 2016.”

Armadex screen media from Polydeck has been instrumental in Albert Frei & Sons’ success with the circuit, Frei adds.

“It probably has a half million tons over it,” says Frei, when visited this summer. “The Armadex is like a molded instead of pin-style panels. It’s a good example of taking the time to think about a system, designing it well and execute it with a good partner and vendor. When you do that, you get products that really do well.”

A good example of “engineering out maintenance” of the riprap plant is a concept Minnesota-based M.A. Bielski & Associates developed for the operation. Albert Frei & Sons utilizes bucket edges from Caterpillar 980 wheel loaders to protect conveyor skirts from oversized riprap products.

“We’re moving away from daily maintenance and engineering long-term wear solutions that require little maintenance,” Frei says. “We modified those Cat edges so all of the wear is basically put there. It’s a two-bolt system where you put it in, and you can flip it too.

Instead of relying on a surface that constantly needs to be changed, Bielski collaborated with the operation to build grid patterns with edges where buildups take place.

“That will last three times longer than a plate or a piece of rubber,” Frei says. “It’s a bit more expensive to put in at the beginning, but once it’s there you don’t have to mess with it for three or four years. That truly was a combination of us working together with Bielski. They know how to take our ideas and what works out here and actually execute them.”

More: Read about Albert Frei & Sons’ Walstrum Quarry here.

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Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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