Wales - The birthplace of Flotation

Maelgwyn Mineral Services was founded in Llandudno, North Wales, on 21st October 1997 ostensibly to commercialize concepts in pneumatic froth flotation. It is interesting to note that exactly one hundred years earlier to the month the Elmore brothers were installing the world’s first industrial size commercial flotation process for mineral beneficiation at the Glasdir copper mine at Llanellyd, near Dolgellau, in North Wales. While in 2009 there is only one known flotation plant currently operating in Wales (floating fine coal) the country can quite proudly claim to be the birth place of flotation as a mineral beneficiation process. It is estimated that around 80% of all the minerals of the world are currently beneficiated by the flotation process.

The flotation process was invented by Frank Elmore who worked on the development with his brother, Stanley. The Glasdir copper mine was bought in 1896 by the Elmore brothers in conjunction with their father, William Elmore. Glasdir lies in the Mawddach valley along the east edge of the famous Dolgellau gold field in the village of Llanellyd, about 3 miles from Dolgellau. The Glasdir copper mine was certainly in production by 1852. It appears that the ore was difficult to work, hard to obtain an adequate recovery of copper and therefore the mine rarely made an operating profit. A series of investors prior to the Elmores came and went as the mine went in and out of liquidation. The Elmores had previously developed a process for producing copper tubes by electrolytic deposition which was being exploited at a factory in Leeds. Shortly after taking over the mine the Elmore company built a new mill for the conventional concentration of the copper ores. However, despite considerable expense, there was little improvement in rates of recovery. Experiments were then conducted with Frank Elmore’s idea of using oil as an instrument of separation and the Glasdir mine was soon exploiting this selective action on a commercial scale to collect some 70% of the ore’s assayed copper content by use of the world’s first practical flotation process.

The process was patented in 1898 with a description of the process published in 1903 in the Engineering and Mining Journal. By this time they had recognized the importance of air bubbles in assisting the oil to carry away the mineral particles. The Elmores had formed a company known as the Ore Concentration Syndicate Ltd to promote the commercial use of the process worldwide. However developments elsewhere, particularly in Australia by Minerals Separation Ltd, led to decades of hard fought legal battles and litigations which, ultimately, were lost as the process was superseded by more advanced techniques.

The Glasdir Experiment, Peter R. Jenkins, Dragonwheel Books, 1996

The Elmore Mystery – The Inventive Elmore Family and Their Role in the Development of the Flotation Process for Mineral Concentration, Peter R. Jenkins, Dragonwheel Books, 2001