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Chemistry LibreTexts

23.6: Group 11: Copper, Silver, and Gold

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    24346
  • The coinage metals—copper, silver, and gold—occur naturally (like the gold nugget shown here); consequently, these were probably the first metals used by ancient humans. For example, decorative gold artifacts dating from the late Stone Age are known, and some gold Egyptian coins are more than 5000 yr old. Copper is almost as ancient, with objects dating to about 5000 BC. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin that is harder than either of its constituent metals, was used before 3000 BC, giving rise to the Bronze Age. Deposits of silver are much less common than deposits of gold or copper, yet by 3000 BC, methods had been developed for recovering silver from its ores, which allowed silver coins to be widely used in ancient times.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This 1 kg gold nugget was found in Australia; in 2005, it was for sale in Hong Kong at an asking price of more than US$64,000.

    Deposits of gold and copper are widespread and numerous, and for many centuries it was relatively easy to obtain large amounts of the pure elements. For example, a single gold nugget discovered in Australia in 1869 weighed more than 150 lb. Because the demand for these elements has outstripped their availability, methods have been developed to recover them economically from even very low-grade ores (as low as 1% Cu content for copper) by operating on a vast scale, as shown in the photo of an open-pit copper mine. Copper is used primarily to manufacture electric wires, but large quantities are also used to produce bronze, brass, and alloys for coins. Much of the silver made today is obtained as a by-product of the manufacture of other metals, especially Cu, Pb, and Zn. In addition to its use in jewelry and silverware, silver is used in Ag/Zn and Ag/Cd button batteries. Gold is typically found either as tiny particles of the pure metal or as gold telluride (AuTe2). It is used as a currency reserve, in jewelry, in the electronics industry for corrosion-free contacts, and, in very thin layers, as a reflective window coating that minimizes heat transfer.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The Chuquicamata copper mine in northern Chile, the world’s largest open-pit copper mine, is 4.3 km long, 3 km wide, and 825 m deep. Each gigantic truck in the foreground (and barely visible in the lower right center) can hold 330 metric tn (330,000 kg) of copper ore.

    Some properties of the coinage metals are listed in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\). The electronegativity of gold (χ = 2.40) is close to that of the nonmetals sulfur and iodine, which suggests that the chemistry of gold should be somewhat unusual for a metal. The coinage metals have the highest electrical and thermal conductivities of all the metals, and they are also the most ductile and malleable. With an ns1(n − 1)d10 valence electron configuration, the chemistry of these three elements is dominated by the +1 oxidation state due to losing the single ns electron. Higher oxidation states are also known, however: +2 is common for Cu and, to a lesser extent, Ag, and +3 for Au because of the relatively low values of the second and (for Au) third ionization energies. All three elements have significant electron affinities due to the half-filled ns orbital in the neutral atoms. As a result, gold reacts with powerful reductants like Cs and solutions of the alkali metals in liquid ammonia to produce the gold anion Au with a 6s25d10 valence electron configuration.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Some Properties of the Elements of Groups 11
    Group Element Z Valence Electron Configuration Electronegativity Metallic Radius (pm) Melting Point (°C) Density (g/cm3)
    11 Cu 29 4s13d10 1.90 128 1085 8.96
    Ag 47 5s14d10 1.93 144 962 10.50
    Au 79 6s15d104f14 2.40 144 1064 19.30