How Silver is made

How Silver is made

It is usually found in ores with less rare metals, such as copper, lead, and zinc, silver was apparently discovered in nugget form, called native silver. In more recent times, the principal uses for silver were coinage and silverware.

Physical Characteristics and Uses of Silver:

Silver is resonant, moldable, malleable, and possesses the highest thermal and electric conductivity of any substance. The chemical symbol for silver is Ag, which means white and shining. Although silver does not react to many chemicals, it does react with sulfur, which is always present in the air, even in trace amounts. The reaction causes silver to tarnish, therefore, it must be polished periodically to retain its luster.

The photography industry is the biggest user of silver compounds. Silver forms the most light-sensitive salts, or halides, which are essential to developing high-quality photography. Silver has the highest electrical conductivity per unit volume of any metal, including copper, so it is used extensively in electronics.

Silver is one of the strongest oxidants, making it an essential catalyst for the chemical process industry. It is used in the production of adhesives, dinnerware, mylar recording tape, and many other products. Silver is the most reflective of all metals.

With the highest level of thermal conductivity among metals and resistance to combustion and sparks, silver is a valuable material for a range of other industrial processes. The most common consumer application of silver is its use in jewelry. Pure silver, which would be too soft to be durable, is mixed with 5-20% copper in an alloy known as sterling silver.

The Manufacturing Process:

A method called the cyanide, or heap leach, process has gained acceptance within the mining industry because it is a low-cost way of processing lower-grade silver ores. However, the ores used in this method must have certain characteristics, the silver particles must be small, the silver must react with cyanide solutions, the silver ores must be relatively free of other mineral contaminants and/or foreign substances that might interfere with the cyanidation process; and the silver must be free from sulfide minerals.

Preparing the ore:

1 Silver ore is crushed into pieces, usually with 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.75 cm) diameters, to make the material porous. Approximately 3-5 lb (1.4-2.3 kg) of lime per ton of silver ore is added to create an alkaline environment.

Silver The ore must be completely oxidized so the precious metal is not confined in sulfide minerals. Where fines or clays exist, the ore is agglomerated to create a uniform leach pile.

This process consists of crushing the ore, adding cement, mixing, adding water or a cyanide solution, and curing in dry air for 24-48 hours.

2 Broken or crushed ore is stacked on impermeable pads to eliminate the loss of the silver cyanide solution. Pad material may be asphalt, plastic, rubber sheeting, and/or clays. These pads are sloped in two directions to facilitate drainage and the collection of the solutions.

Adding the cyanide solution and curing:

3 A solution of water and sodium cyanide is added to the ore. Solutions are delivered to the heaps by sprinkler systems or methods of ponding, including ditches, injection, or seepage from capillaries.

Recovering the silver:

4 Silver is recovered from heap leach solutions in one of several ways. Most common is Merrill-Crowe precipitation, which uses fine zinc dust to precipitate the precious metal from the solution. The silver precipitate is then filtered off, melted, and made into bullion bars.

5 Other methods of recovery are activated carbon absorption, where solutions are pumped through tanks or towers containing activated carbon, and the addition of a sodium sulfide solution, which forms a silver precipitate. In another method, the solution is passed through charged resin materials which attract the silver. The recovery method is generally decided based on economic factors.

In this method, the ore is heated until it becomes molten. As the mixture of metals is allowed to cool, a crust of zinc and silver forms on the surface. The crust is removed, and the metals undergo a distillation process to remove the zinc from the silver.

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