Silver byproduct of mining other metals
- Published: Oct 30, 2018, 1 PM
Silver is often extracted from the ground as a byproduct of mining other metals rather than mined as the primary product.
Silver is most often found together with gold, in a homogeneous alloy known as electrum, an alloy heavily used in the production of coinage in ancient times.
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Silver can also be found with other elements, identified as argentite, pyrargyrite and cerargyrite.
Silver can also be found as a byproduct of mining lead, zinc and copper. Nearly half of silver mined today is extracted when processing other kinds of ore.
When it is the sought-after metal, according to APMEX.com, one of the world's largest Internet sellers of precious metals, “Silver is typically mined through a process that uses gravity to break and extract ore from large deposits. The exact method of ore removal used varies by the physical characteristics of the rock surrounding the metal, as well as the unique shape of the deposit. Deposits are often long and cylindrical, which is why they are known as veins. Silver ore can be strong, made up of solid nuggets, but can also be found in the form of flakes within a more substantial deposit of sand, gravel and other minerals.”
The silver is separated from the ore at a refinery in a process known as smelting.
But how is that ore extracted in the first place?
“To begin a new silver mine, a system of multi-layered crosscuts are made,” according to APMEX.com. “Each cut connects to a central shaft but are kept at a safe vertical distance to avoid collapses. Openings called raises are dug to connect each level. These openings divide the body of ore into blocks. At this point, the silver mine is ready to begin extraction. Most often, the ore is removed starting at the bottom and working up one layer at a time in a method called overhand stoping. Mines include a network of tunnels and chambers designed to safely raise the pulverized ore up and out in mine cars.”
Oldest mines and world leaders
Mexico leads the world with the largest annual production. Peru, Poland, Norway, Canada and the United States also contribute large amounts of the precious metal to annual silver production.
The oldest silver mines still in operation are located in Peru and Norway. Silver is also mined in Bolivia.
In Europe, practically all silver mined is extracted in the form of lead sulfide ore, also known as galena, according to APMEX.com. “Down under in Queensland, Australia, the Cannington mine is one of the world’s largest in terms of reserves. In North America, there are very few mines that extract silver alone; most U.S. mines primarily dig for zinc, lead and copper. Within the U.S., states that lead in silver mining are Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Idaho.”
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