Alchemists look to turn seawater into gold in Finland’s laboratories

With the price of gold stubbornly refusing to collapse, Mika Sillanpää, professor and head of the Laboratory of Green Chemistry at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland has talked exclusively to InvestmentEurope about his efforts to extract gold and other precious metals from seawater.

What is the research you are doing?

The main goal of the research is the recovery of precious metals from seawater. Very valuable metals such as gold, platinum, palladium, silver or titanium are naturally present in seawater but in an extremely low concentrations. We are trying to find the way to concentrate them over suitable materials. We started the research testing the recovery of gold from simulated seawater using synthetic materials previously produced in our lab. In this way, the chemical groups present in these materials are able to retain the gold originally present in solution and convert them into metallic nanoparticles (size in the order of 10-9 m), with plenty of applications in health, diagnostic medicine, biology, catalysis, nanotechnology, etc.

What is the time horizon on the research, eg, when do you hope to have sufficient results to formulate next steps?

Until now, we [have] tried to shed some light on the chemical aspects of the research. For example, studying the mechanism by which gold is retained in the prepared materials. This is an essential step, since [it] helps us to know and predict under which conditions the process will be more favorable and why. Now we have abundant information, although more basic research is needed during several months. Then, the challenge will be the scaling up of the system from an engineering point of view.

If successful, would you be looking to patent a process or establish an actual engineering company or other way of safeguarding and leveraging your intellectual property?

Perhaps, [but] only when the economical profitability of the system is clearly stated [should] our knowledge in this topic should be protected by patent.

Gold demand

According to the recently published Third quarter 2011 Gold Demand Trends published by the World Gold Council (WGC), there was a 6% rise in demand year-on-year to more than 1,053 tonnes.

Investment demand was a key driver of overall dmand growth over the period, with investors globally looking for wealth preservation and portfolio diversification, the report stated.

The demand was sustained despite a price correction that saw the London fix drop from $1,895 on 5 and 6 September to about $1,600-$1,650 in the last few days of the quarter.

Another key trend spotted included the accelaration of net buying by central banks through the period.

As of 29 November the London fix stood at $1,717, according to the WGC.


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