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Occurrence of Metals - Extraction of Metals

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Some metals are found in the earth’s crust in the free state. Some are found in the form of their compounds. The metals at the bottom of the activity series are the least reactive. They are often found in a free state. For example, gold, silver, platinum and copper are found in the free state. Copper and silver are also found in the combined state as their sulphide or oxide ores. The metals at the top of the activity series (K, Na, Ca, Mg and Al) are so reactive that they are never found in nature as free elements. The metals in the middle of the activity series (Zn, Fe, Pb, etc.) are moderately reactive. They are found in the earth’s crust mainly as oxides, sulphides or carbonates. You will find that the ores of many metals are oxides. This is because oxygen is a very reactive element and is very abundant on the earth.

i) Metal of low reactivity: These metals are mostly found in free states. Eg: Gold, silver, platinum, copper

ii) Metal of medium reactivity: These metals are found mainly as oxides, sulphides or carbonates. Ores of many metals exists in oxides form.

iii) Metal of high reactivity: These metal are highly reactive and thus are never found in nature as free element. Eg: K, Na, Ca, Mg, Al

The diagram below explains the extraction of pure metal from ores in several steps.






  • Dressing of the ore – hydrolytic method, magnetic separation, froth flotation method.
  •  Conversion of concentrated ore to its oxide- roasting and calcination (definition, examples with equations).

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