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Gold mining

Mapungubwe in the Limpopo Province is evidence of gold mining in South Africa as early as 1200. Today, South Africa is a world leader in the technology of gold mining. The following flow diagram illustrates some of the most important steps in the recovery of gold from its ore.

  1. Name the process indicated by A.
  2. During process A, gold is extracted from the ore. Is gold oxidised or reduced during this process?
  3. Use oxidation numbers to explain your answer to the question above.
  4. Name the chemical substance that is used in process B.
  5. During smelting (illustrated by C in the diagram), gold is sent into a calcining furnace. Briefly explain the importance of this process taking place in the furnace.
  6. The recovery of gold can have a negative impact on water in our country, if not managed properly. State at least one negative influence that the recovery of gold can have on water resources and how it will impact on humans and the environment.

Mining and mineral processing: iron

Iron is one of the most abundant metals on Earth. Its concentration is highest in the core, and lower in the crust. It is extracted from iron ore and is almost never found in its elemental form. Iron ores are usually rich in iron oxide minerals and may vary in colour from dark grey to rusty red. Iron is usually found in minerals such as magnetite (Fe 3 O 4 ) and hematite (Fe 2 O 3 ). Iron ore also contains other elements, which have to be removed in various ways. These include silica (Si), phosphorus (P), aluminium (Al) and sulfur (S).

Iron mining and iron ore processing

One of the more common methods of mining for iron ore is open cast mining . Open cast mining is used when the iron ore is found near the surface. Once the ore has been removed, it needs to be crushed into fine particles before it can be processed further.

As mentioned earlier, iron is commonly found in the form of iron oxides . To create pure iron, the ore must be smelted to remove the oxygen.


Smelting is a method used to extract a metal from its ore and then purify it.

Smelting usually involves heating the ore and also adding a reducing agent (e.g. carbon) so that the metal can be freed from its ore. The bonds between iron and oxygen are very strong, and therefore it is important to use an element that will form stronger bonds with oxygen that the iron. This is why carbon is used. In fact, carbon monoxide is the main ingredient that is needed to strip oxygen from iron. These reactions take place in a blast furnace .

A blast furnace is a huge steel container many metres high and lined with heat-resistant material. In the furnace the solid raw materials, i.e. iron ore, carbon (in the form of 'coke', a type of coal) and a flux (e.g. limestone) are fed into the top of the furnace and a blast of heated air is forced into the furnace from the bottom. Temperatures in a blast furnace can reach 2000 C. A simple diagram of a blast furnace is shown in [link] . The equations for the reactions that take place are shown in the flow diagram below.

STEP 1: Production of carbon monoxide

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 11 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Jul 29, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11241/1.2
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