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Refining or Purification of Metals


Table of Content

Metals obtained by reduction processes still contain some objectionable impurities and hence have to be refined. Refining techniques vary widely from metal to metal and also depend on the use to which a metal has to be put. Sometimes during refining some substances may have to be added to impart some desirable characteristics to the metal. In some cases a metal is refined to recover valuable by-products present as impurities. Some of the refining processes used are defined below.

By Poling

Readily fusible metals like Sn, Pb and Bi are refined by this method. Impure metal in the form of ingots blocks in the upper part of a sloping hearth (usually of a reverberatory furnace) maintained at a temperature slightly above the melting point of the metal.

By Liquation

Readily fusible metals like Sn, Pb and Bi are refined by this method. Impure metal in the form of ingots blocks in the upper part of a sloping hearth (usually of a reverberatory furnace) maintained at a temperature slightly above the melting point of the metal.


The impurities remain behind as dross while the pure metal melts and flows down into a well at the bottom of the incline.

By Cupellation

This  method employed to purify silver containing lead as an impurity. The impure silver is heated in a shallow vessel made of bone-ash under a blast of air. The lead is easily oxidized to powdery lead monoxide. Most of it is carried away by the blast of air. The rest melts and is absorbed by the bone ash cupel. Pure silver is left behind. Silver itself is not oxidized under these conditions.

By Distillation

Some metals have very low melting point and soon vaporize on heating while the associated impurities remain the solid state. Zinc, mercury and arsenic are purified by this method. Vaccum distillation gives very pure product and is used in the refining of the metals of IA and IIA.

By Fractional Distillation

This process is applied for the separation of cadmium from zinc. In the metallurgy of zinc, the metal is invariably associated with cadmium. The impure zinc is mixed with powdered coke and heated when the first portion of the condensate contain cadmium while zinc is obtained in the subsequent portions.

By Electrolytic Refining

This a very convenient method for refining many impure metals. Most of the metals such as copper, silver, gold, zinc and chromium are refined electrolytically. The impure metal is made the anode and a thin sheet of the pure metal as cathode. A solution of a salt of the metal serves as the electrolyte. On passing an electric current through the electrolyte, the metal dissolves in the electrolyte by oxidation of the anode and pure metal is deposited at the cathode. The impurities present in the anode either dissolve in the electrolyte or collect below the anode as anode mud. In the electrolytic refining of copper, impurities of iron and zinc are dissolved in the electrolyte and white gold, platinum and silver are left behind as anode mud.

Electrolytic Refining

Van-Arke Method

This is used for getting ultra pure metals. The principle involved is to convert the metal to a volatile unstable compound and to subsequently decompose it to give the pure metal. The impurities present should be such as not to be affected. Metals like titanium, zirconium etc. are purified by using this method.

Ti(s) + 2I2(g)  Ti I4(g)
TiI4(g)  Ti(s) + 2I2(g)

Zone- Refining

Meals of very high purity can be obtained by this method by removing an impurity, which shows difference in solubility of the liquid and solid states of the metal. A circular heater is fitted around a rod of impure metal and is slowly moved down the rod. At the heated zone, the rod mellts and as the heater passes on, pure metal crystallizes while impurities pass into the adjacent molten part. In this way, the impurities are swept over one end of the rod, which is finally discarded. The heater may have to be moved from one end to the other more than once. Ge, Si and Ga are used as semiconductors are refined in this manner; gallium-arsenide and indium-antimonide are also zone refined.

Zone- Refining

Chromatography (Ion Exchange Method)

Chromatography is based on the differential adsorption of the various components in a mixture on a suitable adsorbent. In its various forms like column chromatography, TLC (Thin Layer Chromatography), GLC (Gas Liquid Chromatography), Ion-exchange chromatography and Paper chromatography, it is widely used for the separation of mixtures and concentration, identification and refining of materials.

Question 1: Electrolytic Refining is not used for

a. Cu

b. Ag

c. Au

d. Ge

Question 2: Ge, Si and Ga are refined by

a. zone refining

b. Van-Arke Method

c. distillation

d. fractional distillation

Question 3: Fractional distillation is applied for the separation of Cd from

a. Zn

b. Hg

c. Na

d. Mg







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