The Application of Froth Flotation Technology to Copper in Canada in the Early 20TH Century

Additonal authors: Bilaniuk, K.L.. Book title: Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019. Chapter: . Chapter title:

Proceedings, Vol. Proceedings of the 58th Conference of Metallurgists Hosting Copper 2019, 2019

Nesset, J. E.

The introduction of froth flotation technology in Canada, and in particular, in British Columbia, began not long after it was successfully applied in the Broken Hill mining area of Australia which began around 1905. It proved to be a revolutionary and transformative technology that resulted in marginal operations in copper, lead and zinc becoming profitable in spectacular fashion. The paper presents the technology of both oil flotation and froth flotation in the context of the challenges of the time and its early application in British Columbia at the Le Roi No.2 mine (1903), the Britannia Copper mine (1912), and at the Allenby concentrator of the Copper Mountain mine (1918-19). New-found archival documents indicate the Britannia application to be the first production application of froth flotation for copper ore outside Australia, a claim that is currently made by the Braden mine (now El Teniente) in Chile. Flotation was initially an add-on process following gravity methods but was rapidly shown to be far superior method for the bulk and selective recovery of metal sulphides. Flotation proved particularly successful for the recovery of zinc sulphide (the so-called ‘zinc problem’) which was considered a contaminant at the time. The ‘copper problem’ related to the poor recovery of fine copper sulphide particles that were not amenable to gravity methods. The success of flotation led to changes in both the scale and methods of mining, concentration and smelting in a manner that allowed integrated mining companies to flourish. Many are still with us today. INTRODUCTION The advent of froth flotation in the early 20th century was truly a revolutionary technological development, not only for the mining and metallurgical industries, but arguably more so for business and society overall. The Canadian technology historian Jeremy Mouat stated (1996) “The development of flotation was the greatest single metallurgical improvement of the modern is not overstating the case to claim that flotation was of central importance to the smooth functioning of the global economy”. It should, therefore, be a story of interest to us all. The aim of this paper is not to retell the full story, that has been well covered by others (Hoover, 1912; Rickard, 1916a; Hines & Vincent, 1961; Lynch et al., 2010) but rather to add some Canadian perspective and the key role played by companies and individuals in those early days, focusing on events in British Columbia’s copper industry. EARLY DEVELOPMENTS During the later half of the 19th century, a number of flotation-related patents were issued. These include the 1860 patent (Britain) granted to William Haynes for a process to separate sulphides from ground ore by mixing it with oil (1-10% wt) followed by a separation process in a water-filled vessel; the 1877 patent granted to Georg and Adolph Bessel (Germany) for a process involving the mixing of oil and graphite ore followed by boiling in water to produce a high grade graphite froth (>90% carbon); and the 1885 patent granted to Rebecca ‘Carrie’ Everson for the separation of sulphides by mixing sulphide ore with small quantities of oil, and adding water followed by sulphuric acid. These processes are more properly referred to as bulk oil flotation due to the relatively large quantity of hydrocarbon used.
Keywords: Copper 2019, COM2019