History of Octel Amlwch

Important dates in Octel Amlwch’s history.

This page lists some of the important dates in the history of the Octel site at Amlwch. The Amlwch location served as a bromine from sea water extraction plant which was used to produce DBE was was then sent to Ellesmere Port for the production of Anti Knock Compound (AKC) which were required in leaded petrol. The site was initially owned by “Octel” and it’s associated companies but was taken over by Great Lakes (Europe) in 1989 when the production of bromine based chemicals became more important.

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Factory at Northwich, to produce anti-knock compounds for aircraft fuel, was completed just in time for Battle of Britain, alleviating the need to import from USA. Plant was owned by the UK government and operated by ICI. It later became The Associated Ethyl Co Ltd and the product named Octel Antiknock compound. Later the company became Associated Octel which removed the confusion with the main American competitor Ethyl Corporation. The bromine from Northwich was provided by a plant at Hayle in Cornwall which had a design capacity of 2500 tpa.

Reorganisation of Associated Ethyl and expansion of UK facilities. During 1948-9 sea water flows at Hayle were increased by the installation of a booster pump house. A sulphur store was constructed on the Quay to serve the Contact Sulphuric Acid plant that was installed. The quality of the ethylene dibromide scavenger was improved when liquid ethylene, from Petrochemicals, Manchester replacing the in-house production of ethylene from ethanol.

Coastal survey undertaken by H Fossett and R O Gibson to find a suitable site for a bromine from sea water plant close to the main Ellesmere port site. The site at Amlwch was finally selected in 1949.

Amlwch Site1951

Amlwch Site 1951

Program of expansion at Ellesmere Port. New Bromine from sea water facility to be established at Amlwch due to production issues at Hayle.

Amlwch light railway act extended the existing Anglesey Central railway lines extended from Amlwch town station to Octel site. Three Ruston built diesel shunters used to work the line from the works to the BR exchange sidings near Amlwch station which was the end of a former LNWR branch from Gaerwen Junction. When the passenger service over the branch ceased in December 1964 the whole line became freight only. From 1972 Associated Octel’s locomotives ceased to work the light rail section of the route with BR taking over operations through to the works itself. The locomotive was a 0-4-0DH built by Hunslet (wks no. 7460/1977). The locomotive was used within the works for shunting and placing wagons for collection by BR.

11th November 1953 production of bromine from sea water and EDB begins at Amlwch. AKC sold under the name “Octel”. The bromine production rate was 10,000 tpa. This was increased to 15,000 by 1964.

First production of AntiKnockCompound at Ellesmere Port. Changes to the operation at Hayle with the original DOW “alkali” process replaced with the “acid” process. Hayle capacity increased to 5000 tpa bromine. The acid process was already in use at Amlwch.

Octel Chlorine works commissioned at Ellesmere Port. Chlorine to Amlwch and Hayle now provided in rail tanker direct from Octel rather than via ICI. On 29th May 1958 , Cliff Rees , the Work’s manager formally open the Octel Sports and Social club. In October severe winds of over 100 mph forced seaweed through the main pumps which blocked the sea water distribution system for 3 days.


on 17th December Amlwch acheived one million man hours worked without a lost time accident.

On 1st July the Company name was changed to ASSOCIATED OCTEL CO LTD.

octel works amlwch

Until 1960 bromine sales were in glass bottles, 4 per wooden case each case holding 33 lbs of bromine. Transport was either by road or rail. Bottling and packing was a costly and labour intensive process with many attendant problems. Bromine sales were developed with bulk, high usage customers in UK and Europe using 15 ton pay load rail tankers and 7.5ton semi bulk demountable road/rail tanks. Bromine distribution by rail increased steadily throughout the mid and late 60’s. On January 7th 1962 Amlwch works clocked up 5 years without a lost time accident.

The Anglesey plant, with lower power and transport costs, produced the scavenger at a much lower cost than Hayle. By 1964’s Amlwch’s capacity had increased to 15,000 tons per year with a new sulphuric acid plant being built.In order to improve the economics of Hayle, markets were developed to allow Hayle to sell it’s surplus bromine was sold direct to customers. Investment was made in bulk and semi-bulk distribution equipment. Sales improved steadily until in 1968, when scavenger ceased to be produced at Hayle, nearly 4,500 tons of bromine was sold.

Amlwch required 15,600 tons of sulphur per year. This was imported via the Port of Mostyn on the Dee Estuary and then rail hauled 70 miles to Amlwch. Handling of the sulphur was always a challenge, with about 7 consignments per year. Each consignment generated a time of peak activity requiring an immediate turn round of rail hoppers. Two million man hours without a lost time accident was reached in March 1963. However in July after 6 years and 6 months or 2,089,601 man hours the record came to an end.

sulphur train to Octel Amlwch

Anglesey central railways line closed to passenger traffic on 5th December 1964 under the Beeching cuts. The stations were shut and all the sidings and passing loops closed. However the marshalling yard for the Octel freight was retained as this amounted to 70,000 tons annually, and the railway was kept in order to serve this traffic.The Associated Octel Company was the only user of the line which was left in place solely for its use. A new sulphuric acid plant was built at the site.

Production of DBE ceased at Hayle. Site continued to sell liquid Bromine to customers.

Building and Commissioning of recirculation Unit 2A. Installation of new sea water intake and pump house. Plant capacity increased to 20,000 tpa.

Mid 1969
Production Manager directed Works Manager Amlwch to investigate the low efficiency of newly built Unit 2A. Found that there was excessive amounts of SO2 in recirculation air, giving treated sea water a white coloration. SO2 analyser was found to have a design fault but manual control restored efficiency to design levels,SO2 analyser quickly and successfully modified.

Jan 1970
Arthur Fairhurst becomes Work’s Manager at Amlwch. He stayed in this position until September 1973.  From 1975 to 1980 he was Octel’s Distribution Manager based at Ellesmere Port.He later become Works General Manager, and then Manufacturing Manager and then in 1985 moved to London as a member of Octel’s executive committee.

March 1970
Sea water pump for unit 2A was starved of sea water at low water, spring tides due to a build-up of shingle and small rubble in the intake. This was due to residue from the excavation for Unit 2 being washed round the coast in stormy conditions. Equipment brought from mainland to clear debris from inside and immediately outside the intake. Work undertaken by Messrs Pochin, contractors for Units 2B & C

On 23rd May the Britannia railway bridge across the Menai straits caught fire. Two youths are believed to have lit paper for illumination to look for birds’ nests and bats at a point about 12 yards inside the tube entrance, where the main wrought iron tube terminates and the stonework of the entrance commences. The jointing at this point is of timber covered by tarred hessian. The ignition of this timber gave rise to rapid direct burning in an upwards direction to the roof void, and the roof forming the protective covering of the tubes.

One of the results of the fire was that the railway could no longer be used for the transport of chemicals by rail. Alternative arrangements made for supply of Chlorine and Sulphur. Chlorine tanks were mounted on road hauled flat beds whilst modified coal hoppers were rope-hauled across the damaged bridge to enable sulphur to be supplied via Holyhead.

Cl2 tanker on road truck

Cl2 rail tank transported by road during repairs to Brittania Bridge

menai bridge

Jan 1971
Internal investigation undertaken to investigate sulphur usage, measurement and process control. Mass balance undertaken. Source of over budgeted usage traced to higher than intended SO2 in discharge from No I unit spray catchers. SO2 analysers were subsequently modified and a case for recirculation of BOT 1 was prepared. Recirculation unit 2B built and commissioned. Plant capacity increased to 25000 tpa.


” Project 39″ to build a recirculation for BOT Unit 2C commissioned to eliminate environmental mist and fume and acid plant capacity increased. Bromine capacity increased to 30000 tpa. In Jan 1972 Britannia Bridge reopened and rail link restored. Rail service restored with 50% increase in traffic. Associated Octel engine lab at Bletchley was developing a lead trap for cars. This was because the amount of lead in exhaust fumes was becoming an environmental issue.

Feb 1972
Agreement reached with BR Stoke Division to deliver rail freight to Works Gate, along the Light Railway, on condition that level crossing gates were operated by Octel staff and restrictions imposed by Light Railway Order 1951 were observed. Spur constructed on the line outside the Works gate by Grant Lyon Eger on behalf of AOC.to facilitate these movements. BR locos could not enter Works.

parys road crossig 1989

The need for significant capital expenditure for the replacement of ageing equipment at Hayle precipitated the decision to close that site down in July 1973 and rely solely on the 30,000 pa ton facility in Anglesey. Hayle site demolished by 1974. Good–will of Hayle bromine sales business and tanks sold to Dow Chemicals. Arrangements made for despatch of liquid bromine from Amlwch on behalf of Dow-Kings Lynn.

June 1973
At an informal meeting between Works Manager, BR Stoke Division General Manager and his Freight Manager the cost of operating the Amlwch branch was raised. BR asked if AOC would be interested in taking over the line for a peppercorn rent. This was rejected. An indication was given by BR that a facility charge might be appropriate.

Octel tests at the engine lab at Bletchley showed that lead traps reduce lead emissions by about 70%, based on prototypes developed by Associated Octel.

The Shell Oil Company purchased the undeveloped North East portion of the site from Octel in 1974. They developed an oil terminal capable of discharging 500,000 tonne oil tankers from a Single Moooring Bouy (SMB) This site was chosen to avoid the congested waters of Liverpool and the tidal restrictions of the Mersey. Close co-operaton between Octel and Shell was established at this time.

As Distribution Manager, ex WM Amlwch negotiated a facility agreement for the Amlwch branch with BR Stoke Division. This was signed during an LM Region General Managers visit to Amlwch by David Binnie and Walter Greaves (Octel MD) in his Inspection saloon outside the Works Gate. This was the first Facility Agreement between BR and a freight customer. The agreement with BR LM Region was a modus operandi for Octel to have sole use of the line from Gaerwen, a formula whereby Octel contributed to the high costs of keeping the line open, and to guarantee the continued availability of the facility for the duration of the agreement.

Walker Greaves Octel MD signing BR agreement outside Amlwch gatehouse 6/6/1978

Walker Greaves Octel MD signing BR agreement outside Amlwch gatehouse 6/6/1978

Commissioning of a Brominated Liquids Recovery (BLR) facility at Amlwch for the recovery of bromine for other company’s brominated products recycle streams. September 1986 A Class 31 locomotive, number 31296, was named ‘Amlwch Freighter’/’Trên Nwyddau Amlwch. The train helped commemorate the fact that in the 33 years the line had been opened 2 milllion tonnes of freight had been carried to Octel. When British rail removed steam trains Diesel Class 24, Class 40, and Class 47 were used for the freight services.

Tren Nwydda Amlwch sm


Commissioning of a plant to produce HBr gas and liquid at Amlwch. Product sold in cylinders and drums to other customers.

A liquid sulphur terminal was built at Runcorn in the early 80’s to receive liquid sulphur from Poland and Canada for the North West Region. Solid sulphur train load movements were replaced at Amlwch by regular daily road deliveries of liquid sulphur.

delivering sulpur at amlwch

Commissioning of plant to use HBr gas to brominate Dichloromethane (DCM) to make Bromochloromethane (BCM) and Dibromomethane (DBM) to be sold in drums to other chemical intermediate producers.



In 1989 Great Lakes (Europe) purchased the Octel bromine business.Great Lakes were an American based company who specialised in bromine chemistry. This was different from Octel who were really a fuels additive company who only needed bromine as part of the Anti Knock Compound business.

Design and operation of a large scale pilot plant at BOT2 to study the factors which affect the efficient extraction of bromine from sea water. Eventually lead to the introduction of PVC structured packing and a £6M repack of the blowing out towers.

The last train from the Octel plant ran in 1993. All further Chlorine deliveries were by road. However, two shunting locos (presumably RH 321727 and HE 7460) still stored at this factory on 24/8/1997

Chlorine tanker : Amlwch history

15th July 1995. BOT2 used for producing bromine from seawater, was badly damaged in a blaze. Two of the 30m-high steel towers were completely destroyed, but Octel said the third could be repaired within a month. A second group of towers was unaffected. The towers involved in the fire were being refurbished and had been empty of seawater for six weeks. They contained rubber linings and PVC resin packing. Firefighters were called at 1.40pm on 15 July and remained at the site for two days.
Works manager Bob Young said: ‘We have not yet established the cause – we have set up an enquiry
team. The unit was not operating and had not been for six weeks, as we were doing a major maintenance programme on it. It was a construction site rather than a chemical plant.’ The chemical company claims the mishap caused more than 6 million damage, while the interruption cost at least 4 million in business.


Mowlem Engineering was awarded a contract to build a multiproduct bromination facility at Associated Octel’s Amlwch site


A release of bromine from Associated Octel’s Amlwch plant on Anglesey in July injured five people and kept local residents confined indoors.
Associated Octel was prosecuted jointly by the HSE and Environment Agency. The investigation by HSE and EA inspectors found that the parts of the plant were not using the required ‘best available techniques not entailing excessive cost’ (in BATNEEC). The company was charged with breaches of Sections 2 and 3 of HSWA and Section 23 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The total fine amounted to £180,000 and Associated Octel was also ordered to pay the HSE’s and Environment Agency’s costs of £80,000.

Millions of car owners are being warned that four-star petrol will be taken off the forecourts in the year 2000. The move is designed to bring the UK into line with a European directive on lead fuel quality. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/225275.stm) & (http://www.damninteresting.com/the-ethyl-poisoned-earth/)

On 31st December 1999 a complete planned shutdown of the site was required to be completed before 12 midnight. This was due to fears about the possible implications of the “Millennium Bug” on process instruments. In the early days of computers only the last 2 digits were used to record the year. ie 99 instead of 1999. Despite much work in the previous few years no-one could predict exactly what would happen to some electronic instruments as the year ticked over from 1999 to 2000. As a precaution the plant was shut down just before the end of the millennium and restarted a few minutes into the new milleneum.

.As I was the Shift Process Manager that evening I well remember the eerily silence as we waited for the clock to tick over. As everyone else started to welcome in the new millennium with fireworks, we went around checking the time clocks on all instruments and then slowly restarting the plant.

Great Lakes planned to close its Newton-Aycliffe and Amlwch plants, both in the U.K. The facilities, which each employ about 100, manufacture flame retardants and related products. The plant at Amlwch was given a reprieve.

In September Great Lakes Chemical Corporation announced it had entered into a long-term strategic sourcing agreement from Dead Sea Bromine Ltd in Israel. Octel Factory director Brian Macconnachie said bromine was present in sea water off Amlwch at only 65 parts per million but in the Dead Sea it is present at 14,000 parts per million.

1 October 2013 Great Lakes decided to close Amlwch plant.

Octel Amlwch stops production in March 2004, decommissioning and decontamination takes another 9 months.

Canatxx purchase site and announce plans to produce a liquid natural gas (LNG) storage plant at the site.