Metallurgy

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Processing gold.jpg
Smelting, a basic step in obtaining usable quantities of most metals.
Pouring gold.jpg
Casting; pouring molten gold into an ingot.
Gold was processed in La Luz Gold Mine (pictured) near Siuna, Nicaragua, until 1968.

Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their inter-metallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. Metallurgy encompasses both the science and the technology of metals; that is, the way in which science is applied to the production of metals, and the engineering of metal components used in products for both consumers and manufacturers. Metallurgy is distinct from the craft of metalworking. Metalworking relies on metallurgy in a similar manner to how medicine relies on medical science for technical advancement. A specialist practitioner of metallurgy is known as a metallurgist.

Contents

The science of metallurgy is subdivided into two broad categories: chemical metallurgy and physical metallurgy. Chemical metallurgy is chiefly concerned with the reduction and oxidation of metals, and the chemical performance of metals. Subjects of study in chemical metallurgy include mineral processing, the extraction of metals, thermodynamics, electrochemistry, and chemical degradation (corrosion). [1] In contrast, physical metallurgy focuses on the mechanical properties of metals, the physical properties of metals, and the physical performance of metals. Topics studied in physical metallurgy include crystallography, material characterization, mechanical metallurgy, phase transformations, and failure mechanisms. [2]

Historically, metallurgy has predominately focused on the production of metals. Metal production begins with the processing of ores to extract the metal, and includes the mixture of metals to make alloys. Metal alloys are often a blend of at least two different metallic elements. However, non-metallic elements are often added to alloys in order to achieve properties suitable for an application. The study of metal production is subdivided into ferrous metallurgy (also known as black metallurgy) and non-ferrous metallurgy (also known as colored metallurgy). Ferrous metallurgy involves processes and alloys based on iron, while non-ferrous metallurgy involves processes and alloys based on other metals. The production of ferrous metals accounts for 95% of world metal production. [3]

Modern metallurgists work in both emerging and traditional areas as part of an interdisciplinary team alongside material scientists, and other engineers. Some traditional areas include mineral processing, metal production, heat treatment, failure analysis, and the joining of metals (including welding, brazing, and soldering). Emerging areas for metallurgists include nanotechnology, superconductors, composites, biomedical materials, electronic materials (semiconductors) and surface engineering.

Etymology and pronunciation

Metallurgy derives from the Ancient Greek μεταλλουργός, metallourgós, "worker in metal", from μέταλλον, métallon, "mine, metal" + ἔργον, érgon, "work" The word was originally an alchemist's term for the extraction of metals from minerals, the ending -urgy signifying a process, especially manufacturing: it was discussed in this sense in the 1797 Encyclopædia Britannica . [4] In the late 19th century, it was extended to the more general scientific study of metals, alloys, and related processes. In English, the /mɛˈtæləri/ pronunciation is the more common one in the UK and Commonwealth. The /ˈmɛtəlɜːri/ pronunciation is the more common one in the US and is the first-listed variant in various American dictionaries (e.g., Merriam-Webster Collegiate, American Heritage).

History

Gold ore from Boundary Red Mountain Mine, Washington, US Sample of gold ore from the Boundary Red Mountain Mine.jpg
Gold ore from Boundary Red Mountain Mine, Washington, US

The earliest recorded metal employed by humans appears to be gold, which can be found free or "native". Small amounts of natural gold have been found in Spanish caves dating to the late Paleolithic period, 40,000 BC. [5] Silver, copper, tin and meteoric iron can also be found in native form, allowing a limited amount of metalworking in early cultures. [6] Egyptian weapons made from meteoric iron in about 3,000 BC were highly prized as "daggers from heaven". [7] Certain metals, notably tin, lead, and at a higher temperature, copper, can be recovered from their ores by simply heating the rocks in a fire or blast furnace, a process known as smelting. The first evidence of this extractive metallurgy, dating from the 5th and 6th millennia BC, [8] has been found at archaeological sites in Majdanpek, Jarmovac near Priboj and Pločnik, in present-day Serbia. To date, the earliest evidence of copper smelting is found at the Belovode site near Plocnik. [9] This site produced a copper axe from 5,500 BC, belonging to the Vinča culture. [10]

The earliest use of lead is documented from the late neolithic settlement of Yarim Tepe in Iraq:

"The earliest lead (Pb) finds in the ancient Near East are a 6th millennium BC bangle from Yarim Tepe in northern Iraq and a slightly later conical lead piece from Halaf period Arpachiyah, near Mosul. [11] As native lead is extremely rare, such artifacts raise the possibility that lead smelting may have begun even before copper smelting." [12] [13]

Copper smelting is also documented at this site at about the same time period (soon after 6,000 BC), although the use of lead seems to precede copper smelting. Early metallurgy is also documented at the nearby site of Tell Maghzaliyah, which seems to be dated even earlier, and completely lacks that pottery.[ citation needed ] The Balkans were the site of major Neolithic cultures, including Butmir, Vinča, Varna, Karanovo, and Hamangia.

Artefacts from the Varna necropolis, Bulgaria Grave offerings.jpg
Artefacts from the Varna necropolis, Bulgaria
Gold artefacts from the Varna necropolis, Varna culture Insignias of power, gold, 4600-4200 BC, AM Varna, Varm28.jpg
Gold artefacts from the Varna necropolis, Varna culture
Gold bulls, Varna culture Small bulls, thin gold sheet, 4600-4200 BC, AM Varna, Varm27.jpg
Gold bulls, Varna culture
Elite burial at the Varna necropolis, original find photo (detail) Burial with gold treasure, 4600-4200 BC, AM Varna, Varm25.jpg
Elite burial at the Varna necropolis, original find photo (detail)

The Varna Necropolis, Bulgaria, is a burial site in the western industrial zone of Varna (approximately 4 km from the city centre), internationally considered one of the key archaeological sites in world prehistory. The oldest gold treasure in the world, dating from 4,600 BC to 4,200 BC, was discovered at the site. [14] The gold piece dating from 4,500 BC, recently founded in Durankulak, near Varna is another important example. [15] [16] Other signs of early metals are found from the third millennium BC in places like Palmela (Portugal), Los Millares (Spain), and Stonehenge (United Kingdom). However, the ultimate beginnings cannot be clearly ascertained and new discoveries are both continuous and ongoing.

Mining areas of the ancient Middle East. Boxes colors: arsenic is in brown, copper in red, tin in grey, iron in reddish brown, gold in yellow, silver in white and lead in black. Yellow area stands for arsenic bronze, while grey area stands for tin bronze. Metal production in Ancient Middle East.svg
Mining areas of the ancient Middle East. Boxes colors: arsenic is in brown, copper in red, tin in grey, iron in reddish brown, gold in yellow, silver in white and lead in black. Yellow area stands for arsenic bronze, while grey area stands for tin bronze.

In the Near East, about 3,500 BC, it was discovered that by combining copper and tin, a superior metal could be made, an alloy called bronze. This represented a major technological shift known as the Bronze Age.

The extraction of iron from its ore into a workable metal is much more difficult than for copper or tin. The process appears to have been invented by the Hittites in about 1200 BC, beginning the Iron Age. The secret of extracting and working iron was a key factor in the success of the Philistines. [7] [17]

Historical developments in ferrous metallurgy can be found in a wide variety of past cultures and civilizations. This includes the ancient and medieval kingdoms and empires of the Middle East and Near East, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, ancient Nubia, and Anatolia (Turkey), Ancient Nok, Carthage, the Greeks and Romans of ancient Europe, medieval Europe, ancient and medieval China, ancient and medieval India, ancient and medieval Japan, amongst others. Many applications, practices, and devices associated or involved in metallurgy were established in ancient China, such as the innovation of the blast furnace, cast iron, hydraulic-powered trip hammers, and double acting piston bellows. [18] [19]

A 16th century book by Georg Agricola called De re metallica describes the highly developed and complex processes of mining metal ores, metal extraction and metallurgy of the time. Agricola has been described as the "father of metallurgy". [20]

Extraction

Furnace bellows operated by waterwheels, Yuan Dynasty, China. Yuan Dynasty - waterwheels and smelting.png
Furnace bellows operated by waterwheels, Yuan Dynasty, China.
Aluminium plant in Ziar nad Hronom (Central Slovakia) Ziar nad Hronom2.JPG
Aluminium plant in Žiar nad Hronom (Central Slovakia)

Extractive metallurgy is the practice of removing valuable metals from an ore and refining the extracted raw metals into a purer form. In order to convert a metal oxide or sulphide to a purer metal, the ore must be reduced physically, chemically, or electrolytically. Extractive metallurgists are interested in three primary streams: feed, concentrate (metal oxide/sulphide) and tailings (waste).

After mining, large pieces of the ore feed are broken through crushing or grinding in order to obtain particles small enough, where each particle is either mostly valuable or mostly waste. Concentrating the particles of value in a form supporting separation enables the desired metal to be removed from waste products.

Mining may not be necessary, if the ore body and physical environment are conducive to leaching. Leaching dissolves minerals in an ore body and results in an enriched solution. The solution is collected and processed to extract valuable metals. Ore bodies often contain more than one valuable metal.

Tailings of a previous process may be used as a feed in another process to extract a secondary product from the original ore. Additionally, a concentrate may contain more than one valuable metal. That concentrate would then be processed to separate the valuable metals into individual constituents.

Metal and its alloys

Casting bronze Bois-du-Luc - Fondeur d'art 2.JPG
Casting bronze

Common engineering metals include aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, nickel, titanium, zinc, and silicon. These metals are most often used as alloys with the noted exception of silicon.

Much effort has been placed on understanding the iron - carbon alloy system, which includes steels and cast irons. Plain carbon steels (those that contain essentially only carbon as an alloying element) are used in low-cost, high-strength applications, where neither weight nor corrosion are a major concern. Cast irons, including ductile iron, are also part of the iron-carbon system. Iron-Manganese-Chromium alloys (Hadfield-type steels) are also used in non-magnetic applications such as directional drilling.

Stainless steel, particularly Austenitic stainless steels, galvanized steel, nickel alloys, titanium alloys, or occasionally copper alloys are used, where resistance to corrosion is important.

Aluminium alloys and magnesium alloys are commonly used, when a lightweight strong part is required such as in automotive and aerospace applications.

Copper-nickel alloys (such as Monel) are used in highly corrosive environments and for non-magnetic applications.

Nickel-based superalloys like Inconel are used in high-temperature applications such as gas turbines, turbochargers, pressure vessels, and heat exchangers.

For extremely high temperatures, single crystal alloys are used to minimize creep. In modern electronics, high purity single crystal silicon is essential for metal-oxide-silicon transistors (MOS) and integrated circuits.

Production

In production engineering, metallurgy is concerned with the production of metallic components for use in consumer or engineering products. This involves production of alloys, shaping, heat treatment and surface treatment of product.

Determining the hardness of the metal using the Rockwell, Vickers, and Brinell hardness scales is a commonly used practice that helps better understand the metal's elasticity and plasticity for different applications and production processes. [21]

The task of the metallurgist is to achieve balance between material properties, such as cost, weight, strength, toughness, hardness, corrosion, fatigue resistance and performance in temperature extremes. To achieve this goal, the operating environment must be carefully considered.

In a saltwater environment, most ferrous metals and some non-ferrous alloys corrode quickly. Metals exposed to cold or cryogenic conditions may undergo a ductile to brittle transition and lose their toughness, becoming more brittle and prone to cracking. Metals under continual cyclic loading can suffer from metal fatigue. Metals under constant stress at elevated temperatures can creep.

Metalworking processes

Metals are shaped by processes such as

  1. Casting – molten metal is poured into a shaped mold.
  2. Forging – a red-hot billet is hammered into shape.
  3. Rolling – a billet is passed through successively narrower rollers to create a sheet.
  4. Extrusion – a hot and malleable metal is forced under pressure through a die, which shapes it before it cools.
  5. Machininglathes, milling machines and drills cut the cold metal to shape.
  6. Sintering – a powdered metal is heated in a non-oxidizing environment after being compressed into a die.
  7. Fabrication – sheets of metal are cut with guillotines or gas cutters and bent and welded into structural shape.
  8. Laser cladding – metallic powder is blown through a movable laser beam (e.g. mounted on a NC 5-axis machine). The resulting melted metal reaches a substrate to form a melt pool. By moving the laser head, it is possible to stack the tracks and build up a three-dimensional piece.
  9. 3D printing – Sintering or melting amorphous powder metal in a 3D space to make any object to shape.

Cold-working processes, in which the product's shape is altered by rolling, fabrication or other processes, while the product is cold, can increase the strength of the product by a process called work hardening. Work hardening creates microscopic defects in the metal, which resist further changes of shape.

Various forms of casting exist in industry and academia. These include sand casting, investment casting (also called the lost wax process), die casting, and continuous castings. Each of these forms has advantages for certain metals and applications considering factors like magnetism and corrosion. [22]

Heat treatment

Metals can be heat-treated to alter the properties of strength, ductility, toughness, hardness and resistance to corrosion. Common heat treatment processes include annealing, precipitation strengthening, quenching, and tempering. [23]

Annealing process softens the metal by heating it and then allowing it to cool very slowly, which gets rid of stresses in the metal and makes the grain structure large and soft-edged so that, when the metal is hit or stressed it dents or perhaps bends, rather than breaking; it is also easier to sand, grind, or cut annealed metal.

Quenching is the process of cooling metal very quickly after heating, thus "freezing" the metal's molecules in the very hard martensite form, which makes the metal harder.

Tempering relieves stresses in the metal that were caused by the hardening process; tempering makes the metal less hard while making it better able to sustain impacts without breaking.

Often, mechanical and thermal treatments are combined in what are known as thermo-mechanical treatments for better properties and more efficient processing of materials. These processes are common to high-alloy special steels, superalloys and titanium alloys.

Plating

Electroplating is a chemical surface-treatment technique. It involves bonding a thin layer of another metal such as gold, silver, chromium or zinc to the surface of the product. This is done by selecting the coating material electrolyte solution, which is the material that is going to coat the workpiece (gold, silver, zinc). There needs to be two electrodes of different materials: one the same material as the coating material and one that is receiving the coating material. Two electrodes are electrically charged and the coating material is stuck to the work piece. It is used to reduce corrosion as well as to improve the product's aesthetic appearance. It is also used to make inexpensive metals look like the more expensive ones (gold, silver). [24]

Shot peening

Shot peening is a cold working process used to finish metal parts. In the process of shot peening, small round shot is blasted against the surface of the part to be finished. This process is used to prolong the product life of the part, prevent stress corrosion failures, and also prevent fatigue. The shot leaves small dimples on the surface like a peen hammer does, which cause compression stress under the dimple. As the shot media strikes the material over and over, it forms many overlapping dimples throughout the piece being treated. The compression stress in the surface of the material strengthens the part and makes it more resistant to fatigue failure, stress failures, corrosion failure, and cracking. [25]

Thermal spraying

Thermal spraying techniques are another popular finishing option, and often have better high temperature properties than electroplated coatings. Thermal spraying, also known as a spray welding process, [26] is an industrial coating process that consists of a heat source (flame or other) and a coating material that can be in a powder or wire form, which is melted then sprayed on the surface of the material being treated at a high velocity. The spray treating process is known by many different names such as HVOF (High Velocity Oxygen Fuel), plasma spray, flame spray, arc spray and metalizing.

Metallography allows the metallurgist to study the microstructure of metals. AlubronzeCuAl20v500.png
Metallography allows the metallurgist to study the microstructure of metals.

Characterization

Metallurgists study the microscopic and macroscopic structure of metals using metallography, a technique invented by Henry Clifton Sorby.

In metallography, an alloy of interest is ground flat and polished to a mirror finish. The sample can then be etched to reveal the microstructure and macrostructure of the metal. The sample is then examined in an optical or electron microscope, and the image contrast provides details on the composition, mechanical properties, and processing history.

Crystallography, often using diffraction of x-rays or electrons, is another valuable tool available to the modern metallurgist. Crystallography allows identification of unknown materials and reveals the crystal structure of the sample. Quantitative crystallography can be used to calculate the amount of phases present as well as the degree of strain to which a sample has been subjected.

See also

Related Research Articles

Alloy Mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements

An alloy is an admixture of metals, or a metal combined with one or more other elements. For example, combining the metallic elements gold and copper produces red gold, gold and silver becomes white gold, and silver combined with copper produces sterling silver. Combining iron with non-metallic carbon or silicon produces alloys called steel or silicon steel. The resulting mixture forms a substance with properties that often differ from those of the pure metals, such as increased strength or hardness. Unlike other substances that may contain metallic bases but do not behave as metals, such as aluminium oxide (sapphire), beryllium aluminium silicate (emerald) or sodium chloride (salt), an alloy will retain all the properties of a metal in the resulting material, such as electrical conductivity, ductility, opacity, and luster. Alloys are used in a wide variety of applications, from the steel alloys, used in everything from buildings to automobiles to surgical tools, to exotic titanium alloys used in the aerospace industry, to beryllium-copper alloys for non-sparking tools. In some cases, a combination of metals may reduce the overall cost of the material while preserving important properties. In other cases, the combination of metals imparts synergistic properties to the constituent metal elements such as corrosion resistance or mechanical strength. Examples of alloys are steel, solder, brass, pewter, duralumin, bronze, and amalgams.

Brass Alloy of copper and zinc

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, in proportions which can be varied to achieve varying mechanical, electrical, and chemical properties. It is a substitutional alloy: atoms of the two constituents may replace each other within the same crystal structure.

Metal Type of material

A metal is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appearance, and conducts electricity and heat relatively well. Metals are typically malleable or ductile. A metal may be a chemical element such as iron; an alloy such as stainless steel; or a molecular compound such as polymeric sulfur nitride.

Steel Metal alloy made by combining iron with other elements

Steel is an alloy made up of iron with typically a few tenths of a percent of carbon to improve its strength and fracture resistance compared to iron. Many other elements may be present or added. Stainless steels that are corrosion- and oxidation-resistant need typically an additional 11% chromium. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, steel is used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, trains, cars, machines, electrical appliances, and weapons. Iron is the base metal of steel. Depending on the temperature, it can take two crystalline forms : body-centred cubic and face-centred cubic. The interaction of the allotropes of iron with the alloying elements, primarily carbon, gives steel and cast iron their range of unique properties.

Smelting Use of heat and a reducing agent to extract metal from ore

Smelting is a process of applying heat to ore in order to extract a base metal. It is a form of extractive metallurgy. It is used to extract many metals from their ores, including silver, iron, copper, and other base metals. Smelting uses heat and a chemical reducing agent to decompose the ore, driving off other elements as gases or slag and leaving the metal base behind. The reducing agent is commonly a fossil fuel source of carbon, such as coke—or, in earlier times, charcoal. The oxygen in the ore binds to carbon at high temperatures due to the lower potential energy of the bonds in carbon dioxide. Smelting most prominently takes place in a blast furnace to produce pig iron, which is converted into steel.

Wrought iron Iron alloy with a very low carbon content

Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon content in contrast to that of cast iron. It is a semi-fused mass of iron with fibrous slag inclusions, which gives it a "grain" resembling wood that is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure. Wrought iron is tough, malleable, ductile, corrosion resistant, and easily welded.

Extractive metallurgy is a branch of metallurgical engineering wherein process and methods of extraction of metals from their natural mineral deposits are studied. The field is a materials science, covering all aspects of the types of ore, washing, concentration, separation, chemical processes and extraction of pure metal and their alloying to suit various applications, sometimes for direct use as a finished product, but more often in a form that requires further working to achieve the given properties to suit the applications.

Slag Glass-like by-product left over after a desired metal has been separated from its raw ore

Slag is the glass-like by-product left over after a desired metal has been separated from its raw ore. Slag is usually a mixture of metal oxides and silicon dioxide. However, slags can contain metal sulfides and elemental metals. While slags are generally used to remove waste in metal smelting, they can also serve other purposes, such as assisting in the temperature control of the smelting, and minimizing any re-oxidation of the final liquid metal product before the molten metal is removed from the furnace and used to make solid metal. In some smelting processes, such as ilmenite smelting to produce titanium dioxide, the slag is the valuable product instead of the metal.

Metalworking Process of making items from metal

Metalworking is the process of shaping and reshaping metals to create useful objects, parts, assemblies, and large scale structures. As a term it covers a wide and diverse range of processes, skills, and tools for producing objects on every scale: from huge ships, buildings, and bridges down to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry.

Industrial processes

Industrial processes are procedures involving chemical, physical, electrical or mechanical steps to aid in the manufacturing of an item or items, usually carried out on a very large scale. Industrial processes are the key components of heavy industry.

Copper extraction Process of extracting copper from the ground

Copper extraction refers to the methods used to obtain copper from its ores. The conversion of copper consists of a series of physical and electrochemical processes. Methods have evolved and vary with country depending on the ore source, local environmental regulations, and other factors.

Pyrometallurgy is a branch of extractive metallurgy. It consists of the thermal treatment of minerals and metallurgical ores and concentrates to bring about physical and chemical transformations in the materials to enable recovery of valuable metals. Pyrometallurgical treatment may produce products able to be sold such as pure metals, or intermediate compounds or alloys, suitable as feed for further processing. Examples of elements extracted by pyrometallurgical processes include the oxides of less reactive elements like iron, copper, zinc, chromium, tin, and manganese.

In metallurgy, non-ferrous metals are metals or alloys that do not contain iron in appreciable amounts.

Arsenical bronze

Arsenical bronze is an alloy in which arsenic, as opposed to or in addition to tin or other constituent metals, is added to copper to make bronze. The use of arsenic with copper, either as the secondary constituent or with another component such as tin, results in a stronger final product and better casting behavior.

Archaeometallurgy is the study of the past use and production of metals by humans. It is a sub-discipline of archaeology and archaeological science.

Native metal Metal that is found in its metallic form, either pure or as an alloy, in nature

A native metal is any metal that is found pure in its metallic form in nature. Metals that can be found as native deposits singly or in alloys include aluminium, antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, indium, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, rhenium, selenium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, and zinc, as well as the gold group and the platinum group. Among the alloys found in native state have been brass, bronze, pewter, German silver, osmiridium, electrum, white gold, silver-mercury amalgam, and gold-mercury amalgam.

Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America

Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America is the extraction, purification and alloying of metals and metal crafting by Indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to European contact in the late 15th century. Indigenous Americans have been using native metals from ancient times, with recent finds of gold artifacts in the Andean region dated to 2155–1936 BCE, and North American copper finds dated to approximately 5000 BCE. The metal would have been found in nature without need for smelting, and shaped into the desired form using hot and cold hammering without chemical alteration or alloying. To date "no one has found evidence that points to the use of melting, smelting and casting in prehistoric eastern North America." In South America the case is quite different. Indigenous South Americans had full metallurgy with smelting and various metals being purposely alloyed. Metallurgy in Mesoamerica and Western Mexico may have developed following contact with South America through Ecuadorian marine traders.

Metals and metal working had been known to the people of modern Italy since the Bronze Age. By 53 BC, Rome had expanded to control an immense expanse of the Mediterranean. This included Italy and its islands, Spain, Macedonia, Africa, Asia Minor, Syria and Greece; by the end of the Emperor Trajan's reign, the Roman Empire had grown further to encompass parts of Britain, Egypt, all of modern Germany west of the Rhine, Dacia, Noricum, Judea, Armenia, Illyria, and Thrace. As the empire grew, so did its need for metals.

Conservation and restoration of copper-based objects

The conservation and restoration of copper and copper-alloy objects is the preservation and protection of objects of historical and personal value made from copper or copper alloy. When applied to items of cultural heritage, this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer.

Non-ferrous extractive metallurgy metallurgy process

Non-ferrous extractive metallurgy is one of the two branches of extractive metallurgy which pertains to the processes of reducing valuable, non-iron metals from ores or raw material. Metals like zinc, copper, lead, aluminium as well as rare and noble metals are of particular interest in this field, while the more common metal, iron, is considered a major impurity. Like ferrous extraction, non-ferrous extraction primarily focuses on the economic optimization of extraction processes in separating qualitatively and quantitatively marketable metals from its impurities (gangue).

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