Isolation of Silver

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This figure contains two images. The first is of a small clump of bronze-colored metal with a very rough, irregular surface. The second shows a layer-like region of silver metal embedded in rock.
Figure 1. Naturally occurring free silver may be found as nuggets (a) or in veins (b). (credit a: modification of work by “Teravolt”/Wikimedia Commons; credit b: modification of work by James St. John)

Isolation of Silver (Openstax Chemistry 2e)

Silver sometimes occurs in large nuggets (Figure 1) but more frequently in veins and related deposits. At one time, panning was an effective method of isolating both silver and gold nuggets. Due to their low reactivity, these metals, and a few others, occur in deposits as nuggets. The discovery of platinum was due to Spanish explorers in Central America mistaking platinum nuggets for silver. When the metal is not in the form of nuggets, it often useful to employ a process called hydrometallurgy to separate silver from its ores. Hydrology involves the separation of a metal from a mixture by first converting it into soluble ions and then extracting and reducing them to precipitate the pure metal. In the presence of air, alkali metal cyanides readily form the soluble dicyanoargentate(I) ion, [Ag(CN)2], from silver metal or silver-containing compounds such as Ag2S and AgCl. Representative equations are:

The silver is precipitated from the cyanide solution by the addition of either zinc or iron(II) ions, which serves as the reducing agent:

Source:

Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e

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