The Platinum Club
April 11, 2014 4:17 PM   Subscribe

As part of the ongoing Periodic Video series (previously and more previously), Martyn Poliakoff takes us inside Johnson Matthey, where he shows us some "Super Expensive Metals" — a few of the rare platinum group metals — as they are refined and processed from raw ore into finished products.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (11 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Half a year to extract rhodium from rock. Jesus.
posted by flippant at 4:57 PM on April 11, 2014

I would love to pay for a house with a 700k ingot of Pt.
posted by danep at 5:06 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was a little surprised to hear him dismiss gold as a catalyst since "The interest in using gold as a catalyst component has increased during the last 20 years since the surprisingly high activity in CO oxidation at low temperature was reported..."

But that was just a fascinating video. I'm amazed after watching it that these metals are as cheap as they are.

Watched the one on iridium too, and was also surprised to hear an assertion that osmium is the densest element, because I'd read that after a long reign, osmium had finally been displaced by iridium based on "x-ray methods."
posted by jamjam at 5:39 PM on April 11, 2014

I remember the Galactic Emperor in Azimov's foundation series had a throne made of solid Iridium. Which, thinking about it now, is seriously less impressive when you're the leader of an entire galaxy with a few quadrillion people under your rule.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:47 PM on April 11, 2014

A solid Iridium throne might be impressive enough. It's much rarer than gold, and it weighs more than...anything. Except Osmium. "That's heavy, like, Osmium-heavy!"
posted by ovvl at 9:52 PM on April 11, 2014

Osmium is pretty dangerous. When I did electron microscopy in university, we used it as a stain, but we had to be pretty careful with it as it could bind to our eyes just as well as it bound to other organic tissue we wanted to look at under the scope. Iridium is probably good throne material, unless you want to poison a king.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Looks like the oxide compound Osmium Tetroxide is highly toxic, so uh don't get it in your eye.

The metal element is probably just plain heavy, and probably more expensive than I can afford, which is too bad because a small lump of it would make a swell paperweight... OsO4 is formed slowly when osmium powder reacts with O2 at ambient temperature... ah, forget it.
posted by ovvl at 10:48 PM on April 11, 2014

Yeah, osmium is heavy, but not noble. I learned osmium tetroxide is good to selectively oxidize an alkene to a pair of ketones, but never used it as such.

I was able to work in a lab creating and studying platinum-group metal compounds, though. The principal investigator had salts on loan from JM. To do your work, you would either get a bit of some intermediate compound from another lab member, or go to the PI's office and supplicate for a gram or two, at which point a bottle would be withdrawn from a desk and gravely entrusted to your care long enough to weigh some out on an analytical balance.

It's a shame only the silver/gray sponge and metals are shown--the salts are really quite lovely colors.
posted by one weird trick at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

MP points out that iridium is used in spark plugs, and Wikipedia suggests something like three quarters of a ton of it is used in spark plugs every year. How unexpectedly mundane!

I know spark plugs aren't constantly being replaced like they used to be. Are spark plugs collected and recycled now, to get the iridium back? Three quarters of a ton per year seems like a lot of incredibly rare and expensive stuff to just throw away.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

William Hyde Wollaston made practical the process of extracting platinum-group metals from ore, discovering two of them.

We just watched episode 5 of the new Cosmos, which dwelt on the life and accomplishments of Joseph von Fraunhofer. Good stuff.

Turns out the spectral lines Fraunhofer observed, and which still bear his name, were first discovered and reported by Wollaston.
posted by one weird trick at 10:59 AM on April 12, 2014

Osmium is weirdly heavy in the same way titanium is weirdly light. It tickles the brains preconceived notions of heaviness.
posted by kjs3 at 9:18 AM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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