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A blue pigment liked by artists might suck up valuable metals out of your discarded cellphone


The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai (1831). Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Computer chips will be present in absolutely anything these days. They’re within the gadget you’re utilizing proper now to learn this text, and dozens extra will be present in your automobile, serving to regulate engine temperature and stabilize suspension programs. You’ll discover chips in WiFi routers, fridges, and even in toasters. Just about something that you just plug right into a socket now carries a tiny laptop inside.

The truth of the matter is that the trendy world runs on laptop chips, however they’ll additionally eat up plenty of uncommon minerals and particularly valuable metals like gold and platinum — and recycling them isn’t any straightforward job. Looking to deal with this problem, researchers at Nagoya University in collaboration with the Tokyo Institute of Technology have found an unlikely answer within the type of Prussian blue, the world’s first artificial pigment that perpetually modified the artwork of portray.

If you stacked the contents of 1 ton of cellphones, you’d discover as much as 400 grams of gold inside. That may not sound like so much, but it surely’s nonetheless as much as 80 occasions greater than you’d discover in a single ton of pure ore. With the precise expertise to extract all these tiny quantities of steel from every gadget, it might be far more cost-effective to recycle gold and platinum from digital waste than to mine them. Gold mining can be one of the vital damaging industries on the planet, which might contaminate consuming water and soil, and destroy pristine environments resulting from mercury and cyanide air pollution, endangering the well being of individuals and ecosystems.

From Picasso to the waste processing plant

Credit: Reiko Matsushita, Shinta Watanabe.

Before Prussian Blue was invented by chance by German painter Johann Jacob Diesbach on the flip of the 18th century, painters had to make use of solely naturally occurring pigments, akin to indigo dye or the extremely costly ultramarine produced from lapis lazuli to make deep-blue hues. Armed with a brand new chemistry recipe, Diesbach was in a position to now produce nearly limitless portions of Prussian Blue. Other chemists then began producing different artificial pigments, making them far more reasonably priced and reworking artwork.

You can discover Prussian Blue in lots of masterpieces, akin to Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night or Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. During his well-known Blue interval, Picasso used Prussian blue nearly in each one in all his acclaimed works.

Today, the pigment has fallen out of favor amongst trendy painters, who’ve higher choices at their disposal. However, Prussian blue continues to be getting used for 2 very completely different functions. Pills containing Prussian blue are sometimes utilized in emergency medical conditions to deal with heavy steel poisoning. The pigment kinds a jungle-gym-shape lattice with nanometer-sized gaps that’s splendid for trapping particular person steel ions, together with poisonous metals like thallium or radioactive cesium.

Prussian blue was additionally used extensively within the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that brought about the nuclear accident on the Fukushima plant, sucking up radioactive cesium from the soil within the neighborhood of the catastrophe web site. This is how the Japanese researchers acquired the concept to research the pigment’s capability to recuperate metals from digital waste.

Previously, the crew led by Jun Onoe, Professor of Engineering at Nagoya University, confirmed that Prussian Blue pigments might lure uncommon metals like molybdenum, in addition to ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium, amongst different metals from the platinum group on the periodic table.

In their new examine, Onoe and colleagues used X-rays and ultraviolet spectroscopy to be taught extra about how the pigment performs these feats.

“I used to be stunned to find that Prussian blue uptakes the platinum-group valuable metals by substitution with iron ions within the framework whereas preserving the jungle-gym construction,” Professor Onoe defined, including that this mechanism permits the pigment to uptake extra gold and platinum metals than another biobased absorbent.

Besides serving to to unravel our rising digital waste drawback, Prussian blue is also an answer for nuclear waste, whose disposal is extremely complicated and risk-prone. Spent nuclear gasoline rods are sometimes reprocessed and transformed right into a glass-like state for long-term storage in geologically-insulated services, generally miles-deep underground ‘nuclear tombs’. During this course of, platinum-group metals can choose the sidewall of the melter used within the nuclear waste reprocessing plant, which must be flushed to protect the steadiness of the vitrified objects. Prussian blue might be a simple, low-cost repair on this case.

“Our findings reveal that Prussian blue or its analogues are a candidate for enhancing the recycling of valuable metals from nuclear and digital wastes,” says Professor Onoe. “Especially when in comparison with conventionally used bio-based adsorbents/activated carbons.”

From the painter’s palette to digital and nuclear waste cleanup, Prussian blue has been fairly the journey to this point.

The findings appeared within the journal Scientific Reports.

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