December 8, 2023

It is the most precious metal on earth.

Much more important than gold, silver, or platinum. This piece of jewelry.

This is the powder here.

The jewelry is treated by a thin layer of Rhodium, a chemically inert and non-corrosive metal. It helps protect this silver from corrosion and provides a beautiful glossy finish.

However, you likely employ Rhodium every day for a different reason.

Rhodium has been the most essential ingredient in every automobile sold in the United States since around 1975.

It’s part of a process that removes contaminants and stops their entry into the atmosphere.

It’s also why criminals across the U.S. are sawing off catalytic converters to gain access to the few grams of the most precious metal.

How did we arrive to be here?

In the 1970s, the air in the United States was getting dirty.

The main reason was the automobile.

Massive public pressure led the U.S. Congress to pass the “Clean Air Act” of 1970, establishing standards for air quality in the United States.

One of the purposes of these norms was the reduction of the harmful emissions produced by cars, in particular, the reduction of 90 percent in car emissions from levels before 1968 until the year 1975 model.

Researchers and engineers at Engelhard Industries and Corning Glassworks created the most modern three-way catalytic converter.

The converter is before the exhaust intake manifold and just before the muffler.

It aims to decrease the harmful emission of three types, including carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons (or unburned fuel), and nitrous oxides.

The process used to convert regular fuel vehicles is straightforward. A stainless steel shell is enclosed by an amorphous honeycomb ceramic monolith coated with three precious metals: platinum, palladium, and Rhodium.

When the exhaust of a car passes through the honeycomb, the metals are heated and serve as catalysts, turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide non-burned hydrocarbons into C0 2 and H 2.0 as well as C0 2 and nitrous oxides to carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Since these metals, particularly Rhodium, are sturdy and long-lasting, they can serve this purpose for a long time, the car component, with minimal performance loss.

However, as efficient as Rhodium is at catalyzing vehicle exhaust, it has a significant disadvantage: price.

They are also referred to as precious metals due to a reason.

Morris Bullock: Precious metals are costly because they’re scarce – meaning that they’re not in a high amount.

They also include the platinum group metals that comprise Rhodium and ruthenium, as well as platinum, palladium, and iridium. However, precious metals encompass other metals that are well-known to the general public, such as silver and gold.

To give you an example, Rhodium, which makes up one of the metals that is used in catalytic converters. The abundance is approximately 1 part in billion. Iron, for instance. Earth’s abundance is 5 percent.

Robinson So If Rhodium was always scarce, why do prices now go up?

The closure of refineries and mines created massive shortages in palladium, Rhodium, and platinum, even as demand was rising globally.

The perfect storm has caused massive price increases for these precious metals, especially Rhodium.

Due to this shortage, Rhodium prices reached their peak in March 2021.

If car manufacturers cannot purchase these metals from mines, they’ll take them from Recycling.

Recycling platinum group metals comprise a substantial part of the group metals used by American automakers, and that’s a huge business. This business can lead to opportunities in the streets:

However, preventing these crimes is a challenge…

Ben Garcia: They’re no longer crimes that involve violence; they’re not crimes against individuals that shift them away from a violent crime category to a property crime. They can’t use resources for property crimes like they are devoted to violent crimes. Without specific labels on the catalytic converters themselves, it’s impossible to tell the difference between Cat 1 and Cat 2 resulting from your vehicle or someone else’s vehicle.

Robinson being eco-friendly can be costly.

Yong Wang: When you think about a hybrid vehicle, the engine may not run daily, so temperatures are lower. What do you do? Based on the technology available, you add more catalysts, and you need to add more Rhodium, which translates to an enormous shortfall.

Robinson, What can you do to address it? Electric vehicles can be a solution because they don’t have exhaust whatsoever.

Wang When you consider light-duty vehicles globally, there are a billion vehicles within that industry, and the forecast is to grow by 2040 to double. To replace all these vehicles with batteries it’s not going to happen in a flash.

Robinson Decreasing dependence on metals will decrease the demand for thieves and robbers and benefit the environment.

Bullock We’re conducting several basic scientific research studies to develop new catalysts based on the earth’s abundant metals, such as nickel and iron, to trigger reactions catalyzed through precious metals.

Robinson Until the end of time, Rhodium could remain in our cars and be a victim of thieves seeking to make money from the world’s most precious metal.

According to Stewart, the difficulty is in making high-quality temperature maps for city planning, and crowdsourcing the required data is only in the beginning stages. Maps should also include areas off-road where people gather. However, in the end, Stewart states, “hot, crowded cities in lower-income regions of the world stand to benefit most” from the crowdsourced thermal maps. Cities with lower incomes in tropical regions have been historically not studied in urban climatology, and many need access to the instruments that can benefit other areas of the globe. Yet, they are the most susceptible to urban heat.

 

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