The role of gold in clean technology

History and facts 21 Aug 2018

Properties of gold helping in producing clean technology

Gold has been an integral part of the technology sector for decades now. But with the evolution of nanotechnology, gold has found even more promising technological applications that are commercially viable.

Here are the different ways gold can help in clean technology:

As a catalyst

Eliminating mercury

Gold nanoparticles make for an excellent catalyst in the chemical and plastics industry. The first ever gold-based catalyst, which helped improve the synthesis of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), was designed in 2016. VCM is used to form polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is used to produce industrial pipes and as insulation for electric cables.

Mercury-based catalysts were being used for the synthesis of PVC for years. Considering the large scale at which VCM is produced, it involves the single most substantial use of mercury. The advent of the gold-based catalyst is enabling manufacturers to give up a highly toxic chemical element and switch to a cleaner and greener one.

This innovation will also help manufacturers comply with the Minamata Convention on Mercury (which states that all factories have to be mercury-free by 2022), cost-effectively. Depending on how rapidly the technology is adopted, this breakthrough could generate a total demand of 1-5 tons in the region.

Producing clean electricity

Another new-age usage of gold-based catalysts has been in fuel cells. Fuel cells are environment-friendly power units that produce electricity with only water as a by-product. But a pure stream of hydrogen is required for their functioning, which cannot be maintained without a catalyst that can work at low temperatures.

Since gold-based catalysts are one of the first to meet this requirement, this holds tremendous scope for usage of gold in the production of electricity.

Related:10 Ways gold is used in science

Harvesting solar energy

Did you know that gold has been used as a thin coating on glass since the 1960s?

Its infrared-shielding capability prevents buildings from overheating, thereby reducing energy costs.

Taking the same idea forward, gold nanoparticles are now actively being incorporated in solar cells to harvest the sun’s energy. Perovskite solar cells, the most widely used solar cells, make use of gold electrodes.

Like the electronics industry, which uses gold in small quantities in almost everything from cell phones to TVs to calculators, the solar industry is also embracing gold. Be it either in nanoparticles or coating form; we can now foresee a possibility of extensive use of gold in solar panels.

Related:The Science of Gold

Gold’s usage in industrial catalysis, production of fuel cells – and lastly, solar technology – has the potential to give rise to a new wave of clean technology, which is truly the need of the hour.

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