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Gold Encyclopedia

For many years it was assumed that gold did not possess any catalytic properties. However, it has recently been demonstrated that carefully prepared and supported gold catalysts possess some quite remarkable and unique properties. In addition, for gold to be an effective catalyst, it has to be very carefully prepared and deposited onto the support material, or substrate. Substrates are often oxides of the transition series of metals, such as chromium, aluminium, iron and copper (amongst others). It is essential that the gold particles deposited onto the substrate are extremely small i.e. in the nanometer size range, yielding gold particles with a very large surface area.

Some areas where gold has demonstrated potential as a catalyst are:

  • The oxidation of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. This reaction is catalysed by gold at temperatures below 0°C, well below the lowest temperature possible with other currently used catalysts. The reaction has significant positive environmental control potential
  • The reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogen. With stricter European automotive pollution control regulations due to be enforced in 2005, which call for a 50% reduction in NOx emissions for passenger cars, the automotive industry faces a serious challenge to meet these requirements. Whilst gold catalysts will not find application in petrol engine emission control, because the operating temperature of the exhaust system is too high (above 550°C), it could well be applied in lower temperature diesel exhaust systems (the so-called lean-burn systems)

Both of the above reactions have also importance in air purification systems for mine workings, buildings and aircraft cabins.

The use of gold catalysts in the emerging technology of fuel cells is also being investigated. Fuel cells are an electro-chemical device that generates electricity from hydrogen. The hydrogen is sourced from the reforming of hydrocarbon fuels (such as methanol) and the electrical energy is produced without actually burning the fuel. They are most definitely the energy source of the future, for both vehicles and stationary power generation plants. Major advantages of fuel cells are that they are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The only emissions from a fuel cell are water, carbon dioxide and heat.

AngloGold and Mintek, the leading South African metallurgical research organisation, have embarked on a joint venture called Project Autek to develop industrial uses for gold, and in particular gold catalyst systems. Agreements have also been concluded with LERCSI in France and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

These catalytic properties have yet to be exploited commercially.

  • Gold is malleable; it can be hammered cold into a translucent wafer five-millionths of an inch thick (0.000013 cm). One ounce can be beaten into a sheet covering 100 square feet (9.3 square metres).
  • Gold is ductile; one ounce can be drawn into 62 miles (100 km) of thin gold wire to make electrical contacts.
  • Gold does not tarnish; it is corroded only by a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid (aqua regia).
  • Gold dissolves only in cyanide.
  • Gold is a superb conductor of electricity, making it indispensable for semi-conductors and connectors in computer technology.

he purity of gold is described by its ‘fineness’ (parts per 1,000) or by the carat (karat in US) scale.

Fine Gold Carat
1,000 24
995 (London ‘good delivery’)
916 22
750 18 (high quality jewellery)
583.3 14 (medium quality jewellery)
417.7 10 (broad jewellery range in US)
375 9 (common for jewellery in UK)
333.3 8 (normally lowest acceptable purity for jewellery in Europe)

25 gram bar10 gram bar

5 gram bar1 gram bar

Information from info.goldavenue.com

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