High-tech Gold advances

World Gold Council (WGC) is presenting recent developments in gold catalyst science applications at the 20th North American Catalysis Meeting (NAM) being held in Houston, Texas, this week. The NAM meeting is a gathering of more than 1,000 of the world’s leading scientists, chemists and engineers who are focussed on original research and advancements in the broad use of catalysts in the petroleum, chemical, pharmaceutical, energy and environmental industries.

Gold ranks among the most high-tech of metals, performing a vital role in many cutting-edge technologies that are helping improve areas of everyday life. Its unique physical and chemical properties mean it is the only material that can be used for certain industrial and medical applications. In 2006, industrial demand for gold reached a new record in both tonnage and dollar terms. Tonnage figures, at 451.5 t, outstripped the previous record reached in 2000.

Commenting on the event, Richard Holliday, Head of Industrial Applications, WGC, said: “Here in Houston there will be over 30 talks devoted to gold catalysis – it is a really hot topic at the moment. The interest from both researchers and industry in using gold as a catalyst just keeps growing. In chemical processing, pollution control and fuel cell catalysis there is great interest in exploiting the unique properties of gold. Even in the automotive industry, where gold was once considered too unstable to be used, we are seeing progress in commercialisation with Nanostellar’s recent announcement of a gold-containing diesel oxidation catalyst.”

Already used in a handful of applications, further industrial trials are currently underway in which ‘nano’ gold is being used as a catalyst. These trials include the control of mercury emissions from power stations, efforts to improve the long term durability of fuel cells and plans to create more effective gas masks to ensure safety of workers in emergency situations. Other potential applications in fine chemical production, water treatment and control of atmospheric pollution show gold to be an important ‘green’ metal that plays an ever increasing essential role in everyday lives.

No longer confined to the research laboratory, the commercial exploitation of these potential new uses for gold is taking shape. The recent announcement by Nanostellar, that it has developed an automotive pollution control catalyst for diesel engines that contains gold, as well as the traditional platinum and palladium ingredients, is a major step-forward in the potential use of gold in emission and pollution control.

Alongside WGC at the Houston gathering will be South Africa organisation Mintek who are seeking to promote their AUROliteT range of gold catalysts produced in conjunction with gold mining company Anglogold-Ashanti under the project AuTEK initiative.

Jason McPherson from Mintek explains “One of the main hurdles to establishing a gold catalyst market has been lack of commercially viable quantities of material for product testing and screening. Large-scale production of gold catalysts is difficult due to issues such as gold particle size, reproducibility and deactivation. Research at AuTEK has been directed at overcoming these hurdles and has led to the development of the AUROliteT range of gold catalysts. We are ready to further collaborate with end-users to design gold based catalysts for their specific needs.”