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The dissolution of gold colloids in aqueous thiosulfate solutions

Zhang, Xinmin (2008) The dissolution of gold colloids in aqueous thiosulfate solutions. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The kinetics of the dissolution of gold and silver colloids in ammoniacal thiosulfate solutions has been studied using oxygen, copper(II) or oxygenated copper(II) as oxidants at pH 9 - 11 and temperature 22oC to 48oC. The effects of the concentration of the main reagents such as copper(II), ammonia and thiosulfate as well as various background reagents have been investigated. Gold and silver colloids have characteristic absorption peaks at 530 nm and 620 nm respectively. Thus, the extent of gold or silver dissolution in different lixiviant systems was monitored using an ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometer. A comparison of the behaviour of gold colloids and powders has also been made. The beneficial or detrimental effects of silver colloid, and background reagents such as silver nitrate, and sodium salts of nitrate, carbonate, sulfite, sulfate, trithionate, tetrathionate anions have also been investigated.

Experimental results show that the relative rates and the extent of gold colloid dissolution at 25ºC in different lixiviant systems in a given time interval are in the order: oxygen-cyanide > copper(II)-ammonia-thiosulfate ≈ oxygen-copper(II)- ammonia-thiosulfate > oxygen ammonia-thiosulfate ≥ oxygen-ammonia > copper(II) ammonia. The analysis of electrode potentials shows that Au(S2O3)23- is the predominant gold(I) species in the lixiviant solutions containing oxygen or copper(II) as oxidant and thiosulfate or mixed ammonia-thiosulfate as ligands. During the reaction of copper(II) with thiosulfate in ammoniacal solution without oxygen, the measured potential using a platinum electrode represent the redox couple Cu(NH3)n2+/Cu(S2O3)m1-2m (n = 4 or 3, m = 3 or 2) depending on the concentrations of thiosulfate and ammonia.

The initial dissolution rates of gold colloid by oxygen in copper-free solutions show a reaction order of 0.28 with respect to the concentration of dissolved oxygen, but independent of the concentration of ammonia and thiosulfate. The reaction activation energy of 25 kJ/mol in the temperature range 25°C to 48°C indicated a diffusion controlled reaction.

The initial dissolution rates of gold colloid by oxidation with copper(II) in oxygenfree solutions show reaction orders of 0.41, 0.49, 0.60, 0.15 and 0.20 with respect to the concentrations of copper(II), thiosulfate, ammonia, chloride and silver respectively. The presence of silve (I) or chloride ions enhances the rate of gold dissolution, indicating their involvement in the surface reaction, possibly by interfering with or preventing a passivating sulfur rich film on gold surface. An activation energy of 40-50 kJ/mol for the dissolution of gold by oxidation with copper(II) in the temperature range 22°C to 48°C suggests a mixed chemically/diffusion controlled reaction. The dissolution of gold by oxidation with copper(II) in oxygen-free solutions appears to be a result of the reaction between gold, thiosulfate ions and the mixed complex Cu(NH3)p(S2O3)0. The half order reactions support electrochemical mechanisms in some cases.

The initial dissolution rates of gold colloid, massive gold and gold-silver alloys by oxygenated copper(II) solutions also suggest a reaction that is first order with respect to copper(II) concentration. High oxygen concentration in solutions has a negative effect on the initial rate of gold dissolution and overall percentage of gold dissolution, indicating that oxygen affects the copper(II), copper(I) or sulfur species which in turn affects the gold dissolution. The surface reaction produces Au(NH3)(S2O3)- and Cu(NH3)p+. The mixed complexes Au(NH3)(S2O3)- and Cu(NH3)p+ re-equilibrate to the more stable complexes Au(S2O3)23- and Cu(S2O3)35- in solution.

The dissolution of gold powder by oxidation with copper(II) in oxygen-free solutions shows the same trends as that of gold colloid. The presence of silver(I) or chloride ions enhances the initial rate and percentage dissolution of gold colloid and powder. The dissolution kinetics of gold powder and colloid follow a shrinking sphere kinetic model in solutions of relatively low concentrations of thiosulfate and ammonia, with apparent rate constants being inversely proportional to particle radius.

The best system for dissolving gold based on the results of this work is the copper(II)-ammonia-thiosulfate solution in the absence of oxygen or in the presence of oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, copper(II) 1.5-4.5 mM, thiosulfate 20-50 mM, ammonia 120-300 mM and pH 9.3-10 are the best conditions. The presences of carbonate and sulfite have a significant negative effect on the dissolution of gold. The presence of sodium trithionate shows a beneficial effect in the first two hours, while sodium tetrathionate or lead nitrate have a small negative effect and sodium nitrate showed no effect on the dissolution of gold. Silver nitrate and sodium chloride also show beneficial effects. In the presence of oxygen, copper(II) 2.0-3.0 mM, thiosulfate 50 mM, ammonia 240 mM and pH 9.3-9.5 are the best conditions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Chemical and Mathematical Science
Supervisor(s): Senanayake, Gamini
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