By the old method of determining platinum in ores and bullion, the silver-alloy first obtained in the regular course of assay is parted in strong sulphuric acid and the residual metal weighed. This is re-alloyed with silver by a second cupellation and parted in nitric acid, the residual metal being again weighed. Any difference shown between the two weighings is assumed to be, and is called, platinum. Sometimes it is so, and if any considerable amount of platinum be present, there will be a decided difference between the two weighings; but a slight difference is no real evidence whatever of the presence of platinum. On the other hand, the second weight may equal or possibly exceed the first, even when traces of platinum are present. Again, other members of the platinum group may go into solution in nitric acid more or less. If present, these would be called platinum and escape detection. The method does not provide any direct tests whatever as to the presence or absence of platinum. It is often indecisive, and sometimes gives erroneous results. It is, therefore, quite unsatisfactory.
Being called upon many times to determine platinum in a wide variety of materials, particularly when present in very small amounts, I have realized the disadvantages and defects of this old method.
In an article on the solubility of gold in nitric acid, I have briefly outlined a method of gathering a little gold out of a solution containing much silver, which furnishes the basis of an excellent method for the direct and absolute determination of small amounts of platinum, which has the added advantage that the metal weighed may be subjected to suitable tests, to determine that it really is platinum, and to reveal the presence of other members of the platinum group.
In the regular course of assaying for the precious metals, gold is parted from silver by dissolving the silver in nitric acid. If platinum be present in small amounts only, it will readily go into solution in the nitric acid. If now a limited amount of hydrogen sulphide be added to the solution from parting, any platinum present will be precipitated as sulphide, along with some silver sulphide. On filtering off the precipitate (which generally is sufficiently washed by the operations necessary to transfer it from the precipitating-dish to the filter), the moist filter is transferred to a small porcelain crucible, dried at a low heat, and burned off by gentle ignition. This transforms the sulphide precipitate into a metallic sponge, which is wrapped in a small piece of thin lead foil and cupelled. The resulting bead is then parted in strong sulphuric acid, when the platinum will be left as a dark residue, generally collected in spongy form, even when minute in quantity. This sponge, after reboiling in fresh acid, if necessary, is suitably washed by decantation, annealed, and weighed.
Generally, the final metal speaks for itself as being platinum, but, if there should be any doubt, it may be dissolved in a drop or two of aqua regia and gently evaporated. The solution obtained may be tested with potassium iodide, or a few small crystals of ammonium chloride may be added, when the characteristic precipitate will show itself. As a further test, this may be filtered off and gently ignited to produce spongy platinum. If the amount of the final metal be considerable, the platinum may be determined by the double-chloride method. Any decided difference shown would indicate the presence of other members of the platinum group, for which direct test could then be made.
For precipitating the platinum and the necessary silver from the parting-solution, a very dilute solution of hydrogen sulphide should be used. One part of a strong solution should be diluted to from 10 to 20 parts with water. If the solution of silver nitrate be strongly acid, it should be largely diluted, or it may first be evaporated and then diluted. The very dilute hydrogen sulphide solution should be added very slowly to the silver nitrate solution with constant stirring. The solution is, of course, at once darkened, but there should be no immediate separation of a visible precipitate. The solution should be stirred occasionally, and in about 2 hr. flocks of precipitate should appear. It may be filtered in from 3 to 4 hr., but it is a good plan to let it stand over night if possible.
The amount of hydrogen sulphide required depends, of course, upon the amount of platinum present. If this should be roughly known or suspected, the amount used should generally be enough to precipitate the platinum and from three to five times as much silver. On an entirely unknown ore, I should at first use 1 cc. of strong hydrogen sulphide solution diluted to 15 cc., and reserve the filtrate from the sulphides for retreatment, if necessary. On an unknown bullion I should use 2 cc. of strong solution diluted to 30 cc., partly because bullions are liable to carry much more platinum than any ordinary ore, and partly because the volume of the silver nitrate solution from parting the gold must necessarily be larger. If, however, it is known that minute amounts of platinum are present, it is still necessary to use sufficient hydrogen sulphide to give a silver bead large enough to handle comfortably. For this reason I seldom use less than the equivalent of 1 cc. of strong hydrogen sulphide solution.
It may happen that the final metal shows the yellow color of gold, due to the fact that exceedingly fine float-gold passed over in decanting the solution of silver nitrate from the gold. In such a case the metal must be re-alloyed with silver and the treatment repeated. When the proportion of gold to silver in the metal being parted is so small that the gold separates in a very finely divided state, it will often save trouble to filter the silver nitrate solution, to separate any float-gold, before adding the hydrogen sulphide.
This method has been used with the utmost satisfaction in determining very minute amounts of platinum in various silver-products directly. Much of our silver coinage, for instance, will show a few tenths of a milligram of platinum in 100 g. of coin. Recently I examined samples from two purchases of fine silver. Very large samples were dissolved in nitric acid.
The acid in portions was poured upon the samples and allowed to act at a gentle heat until exhausted. Finally, a small amount of residual silver was removed from the solution and dissolved in a small amount of fresh acid, the solution being then united with the main solution, and the whole evaporated nearly to dryness. It was then diluted to about 250 cc., and 5 cc. of strong hydrogen sulphide solution diluted to 50 cc. was poured in with constant stirring.
This operation concentrated the gold and platinum of the silver into a small amount of sulphide precipitate. This precipitate was filtered off, roasted, and cupelled. The resulting bead was parted in nitric acid, and the gold was determined. The silver nitrate solution was treated with dilute hydrogen sulphide solution, equivalent to about 1 cc. of strong solution, and the platinum parted from the silver by strong sulphuric acid.
These two samples yielded the following results:
In case we have a material containing a considerable amount of platinum, the well-known fact that platinum alloyed with silver is not entirely soluble in nitric acid must be considered. In such a case the gold from the first parting in nitric acid must be alloyed with silver and parted in nitric acid a second, or even a third, time, before proceeding to precipitate the platinum from the parting-solutions with hydrogen sulphide.
It is also very satisfactory to use the general method of gathering gold in a precipitate of silver sulphide in determining minute quantities of gold in high-grade silver, such as that produced by electrolytic refining. It is comparatively easy to gather the gold from very large samples of silver, up to 100 g. or more, into a decigram of silver, and then part by nitric acid as usual.
Probably this method of precipitating a noble metal in solution, or removing it from suspension in a liquid, by adding hydrogen sulphide in the presence of silver in the solution, could be used to advantage in determining gold in metallic copper and similar materials.