It’s interesting to note that while silver comes from silver ore, it is also found in ore with other metals like gold, zinc, copper and lead. How silver is produced from the ores depends on which type of ore is being worked with. One method for drawing silver from zinc ore is to melt the ore down to a molten state and then cool it. It is during the cooling process that the zinc and silver rise to the top, forming a crust-like layer on the surface. A refining process is then performed on that cooled layer that separates the silver from the zinc.
How silver is produced from copper ore is an entirely different process in which the ore is put into an electrolyte cell with an electrolyte solution as well as positive and negative electrodes. Passing electricity through the solution separates the metals, drawing the copper to the negative electrode while the silver is drawn to the positive electrode. At this point, although the silver has been separated from the other elements, it is still in an impure, slime-like form, so more processing is necessary. The first-round silver “slime” is roasted, then leached and finally smelted and made into blocks which are then put through the electrolysis process once more. At the end of the second round, pure silver is produced and drawn to the negative electrode.
As involved as these processes are, how silver is produced today is far more efficient and exact than earlier methods. With modern technology always reaching for the best way to accomplish things, it’s possible even more effective processes will be developed in the future, ensuring as much as possible the availability of this precious metal.