Anyone hoping that China’s near monopoly over Lanthanides will be broken may be disappointed to see that the recent news about artificial palladium being created in a Japanese lab is a long way from being much use. It doesn’t stop magazines like Fast Company (whom I thought folded years ago along with Red Herring) getting a little over excited and digging out some pictures of carbon to illustrate the story.
The basic technique seems to be to mix nano particles of the two elements on either side on the periodic table to the one of interest, in this case Rhodium and Silver which have 47 and 45 electrons respectively. Prof Kitagawa who came up with the technique explains that “the orbits of the electrons in the rhodium and silver atoms probably got jumbled up and formed the same orbits as those of palladium.”
While silver is relatively cheap, Rhodium trades at around three times the price of Palladium, and given the uncertainties surrounding the technique and its potential yield, it’s economic benefits look to be marginal for the foreseeable future compared with digging up more Palladium.
His team created a solution containing equal quantities of rhodium and silver, turned the solution into a mist and mixed it little by little with heated alcohol to produce particles of the new alloy. Each particle is 10 nanometres in diameter and atoms of the two metals are equally mixed.
It’s a good bit of nanoscience, nonetheless, but in order to move towards a more sustainable future, the thinking has to get away from merely replacing parts of the system, and think about whole new systems.