The Scottish landmass eroded during the Cretaceous period, 93 million years ago, and quartz and other minerals were deposited very close to the shoreline of a tropical sea. The sand sediment was repeatedly reworked by storms and changes in sea level. A process of natural winnowing sorted the quartz from the other minerals, and separated grains of similar size. A volcanic eruption around 60 million years ago then covered the super pure silica sand with a thick layer of basalt, which protected the sandstone from further erosion.
Lochaline was first mentioned as a potential source of silica sand in 1895, when a vast deposit of white cretaceous sandstone running inland from Lochaline shore was reported. In 1923 the Edinburgh Geological Survey analysed a sandstone sample. It proved to be one of the purest deposits in the world. At that time imported silica sand was quite cheap and extraction of Lochaline sand was considered to be uneconomic. It was not until World War 2 when other sources of silica sand were cut off, and pure silica was needed for the production of high quality glass for periscope lenses and gun sights, that Lochaline mine was opened.
In the beginning the sand was not processed on site and the unprocessed sand was shipped out by puffer boat.
Soon after a loading and processing facility was built in Lochaline, first at the West Pier and in the 1970s at its current location.
Initially they tried to use horses to haul out the sand underground but this proved unsuccessful and soon they started using diesel locomotives. Nowadays, the sand gets transported to the plant by articulated dump trucks.
In 2008 the owners of the mine decided to close the mine, but in June 2011 a joint venture between the Italian mining company Minerali Industriali and the global glass manufacturer NSG was created and Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd. was registered. In September 2012 Lochaline sand mine was officially re-opened.