One reason platinum costs so much (roughly $1,500 per ounce) is that it's not just precious, but useful.
Platinum and another precious metal, rhodium, are part of the catalytic converters that turned around the climate crisis of the 1970s, visible smog.
A thin layer of metal sits on a ceramic substrate, and as exhaust gases pass through, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides become nitrogen, water and carbon dioxide. (The picture is from an English environmental education site.)
To sum it up in one word, it's a nanocatalyst. The claim is this can cut the cost of a converter by 35% and increase efficiency by 25%.
Fabrizio Rinaldi is the man behind the catalyst technology.
"These advanced catalyst coatings can be tailored for specific reactions within the catalytic converter, using lower cost metals and more cost-effective application techniques, deliver high levels of consistent performance and durability in emission control applications."
In the under-rated Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, a young Chinese immigrant (the late Miyoshi Umeki in the original production) and her father sing that "a hundred million miracles are happening every day."
This is one of them.
I still get notes here from people who say that advances in chip technology or software are designed to do the same work with less people, and thus increase unemployment.
News releases like this put the lie to that Luddism. What faster chips and better software do is let us focus on higher levels of abstraction -- on bigger problems rather than basic methods. That is why the pace of change keeps accelerating.
Better tools mean you can do more work. Don't think about the hammer. Think about what you can make with it.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com