CSU scientists work to replace gold, precious metals used in industry

Gold, along with being one of the most stable currencies available, is also commonly used with other precious metals in multi-million dollar research efforts at CSU.

The CSU department of chemistry recently received a four year, 4.4 million dollar grant to study ways to replace precious metals in certain industrial procedures.


Precious metals like gold, silver and platinum are used in the pharmaceutical and solar industry, among others, because they work better than cheaper metals, according to Dr. Matt Shores, director of the research group that received the grant.

“A lot of big scale chemistry is done with precious metals. The performance is the key — there’s no point in using a cheap catalyst if it doesn’t work,” Shores said.

Precious metals, such as gold and silver have been used as currency throughout history because they have unique properties, according to Dr. John Ridley, economic geologist at CSU.

“(Gold’s) value is guaranteed. The fluctuations are on a short time scale, over a long time scale it has a very constant value,” Ridley said.

Gold can be used in a variety of applications, from electronics to windows, because of it’s unique chemical properties, according to Ridley.

“Gold also has a lot of use in electronics because it’s a good conductor, and it doesn’t corrode like copper,” Ridley said.

Shores says that metals like gold are heavier elements and have different chemistry than cheaper metals like copper or iron, which makes them better able to carry out reactions in smaller quantities.

“Precious metal catalysts tend to be so active compared to iron,” Shores said. “You’re only using a tiny bit of it and you’re getting a lot out of it.”

Of gold, Dr. Jerry Magloughlin, professor in geosciences, said it’s valuable because it’s rare. According to Magloughlin, gold is a geologic and economic issue.

“You find a place where nature has concentrated the gold to a high enough degree that you can go in and profitably extract it. If you can’t make a profit it’s not worth doing,” Maglouglin said.


Magloughlin points out that like any of the world’s resources, the earth will not run out, the question is whether or not the resource is reasonable to extract.

“The planet will never run out of gold. There will always be gold. There will always be oil. The question is, how much are you willing to pay to get it?” Magloughlin asked.

Despite these metals’ utility, they are expensive and not in huge supply. Shores and colleagues received a large national grant to study ways to replace these metals in industry so that we are no longer relying on a rare and diminishing resource.

Magloughlin says that people will always be thinking of better ways to use our existing resources, and new ways to replace existing technology.

“Everybody works on these problems, thats the beauty of human-kind. As soon as something is recognized as a problem, there’s somebody somewhere looking at it and thinking about how to improve it,” Magloughlin said.

Collegian Science Beat Reporter Remi Boudreau can be reached at news@collegian.com.