Platinum is one of the rarest metals on earth. Only a few hundred tons of it are produced annually, which makes items such as catalytic converters and jewelry expensive. Its desirability as a metal is mostly because of its anti-corrosive properties, but what makes it undesirable is that, in an atomic state, can be toxic. Platinum is also used in hydrogen fuel cells as a catalyst and is the most expensive part.
Researchers at University of Warwick [UW] have taken the propensity of certain plants and bacteria to extract poisonous substances, such as platinum, and put it to use removing them from ground and water. Planting is simple, and on cutting, the platinum remains in the plants’ tissues.
This would be impressive on its own, except that UW researchers took it one step further. By altering the genetics of the plant in question, particularly the common Alyssum flower family, UW researchers are hoping to control the size and shape of the platinum particles that they produce after extracting it from the soil.
Professor Kerry Kirwan explains, “The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable… ‘biofactories‘ as we are calling them, that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the [platinum] nanoparticles they will make. This would give manufacturers… exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement.”