Published: 25 Oct 2017

Gold and the environment

Did you know that gold can be used to solve environmental problems?

With World Environment Day on 5th June, let’s find out how the yellow metal can help to reduce our carbon footprint.

  1. Renewable energy
    Giant Photovoltaic
    The problem:

    Fossil fuels, though a great source of energy, cause heavy damage to the environment, and are available in finite quantities. Thus, scientists have been looking for alternative sources of energy that are clean and renewable such as wind, solar, and tidal, amongst others.

    The International Energy Agency expects solar energy to become the largest source of electricity in the world by the year 2050. But right now, the high expense involved in creating efficient solar cells is a cause for concern

    The solution:

    Several research groups around the world have shown that using small quantities of gold (in the form of tiny nanoparticles) can help to improve the efficiency of various clean technologies. In the field of solar power, Scientists at the Stanford University have created an innovative solar panel which incorporates a layer of gold nanoparticles. This layer helps to increase the efficiency of each solar cell in the panel from 20% to 22%. This may seem like a small increase, but a single percentage point represents a significant ‘real world’ improvement in efficiency.

  2. Catalytic converters
    Catalytic Converters
    The problem:

    In April 2017, 2,54,290 cars were registered in India, and countless cab rides were taken. While this suggests economic progress and greater purchasing power, more cars mean more air pollution.

    The solution:

    To cut air pollution, cars are fitted with catalytic converters that help remove hazardous pollutants generated by burning fuel in an engine. In 2011, a new catalytic converter was developed with the support of the World Gold Council (WGC). These devices use gold as a catalyst (a material that accelerates chemical reactions without being consumed in the process), in combination with other precious metals. This catalyst formulation offers car manufacturers an alternative solution, and new and improved products based on this technology are currently under development at one of the world’s largest catalytic convertor manufacturers.

  3. Clean groundwater
    Clean groundwater
    The problem:

    In India, 19 states have reported fluoride contamination of water, and groundwater in at least ten states is contaminated with arsenic. This exposes communities to polluted water supplies, and associated healthcare and medical problems.

    The solution:

    One of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to manage water pollution is to use specially-designed chemical catalysts to break down contaminants. Researchers from Rice University, Stanford University, and DuPont Chemical have developed a gold and palladium catalyst which effectively removes dangerous chlorinated compounds from polluted groundwater.

    The bottom line:

    Gold is not only a symbol of the past, embodying the traditions and culture of India, but can also help usher in a clean and green future, driven by technology.