Some of the highest demand for platinum comes from the auto industry, which uses the metal for emissions-reducing catalytic converters. Unfortunately, these parts only last so long. While under constant bombardment from hot fuel, small amounts of platinum break off from catalytic converters over time. This platinum obviously ends up somewhere, but is it recoverable?
If catalytic converters are shedding microscopic bits of platinum dust while they’re in use, it stands to reason that this dust accumulates in highly trafficked areas – like the side of a highway. The team behind YouTube channel “Cody’s Lab” decided to test this theory by running an assay on a sediment sample obtained from a busy section of I-80 in Utah. First, they collected a generous sample by sweeping the side of the road with a push broom. Then, they repeatedly sifted the material to achieve a fine powder. From there, they performed a fire assay to successfully extract a small amount of platinum, which they verified with acid testing.
Judging by the amount of platinum recovered from the sample, Cody estimates that there could be about 6.7 grams of platinum per ton of finely sifted roadside dust (pre-sifted bulk material could be significantly less). From a miner’s point of view, that’s a valuable ore! But is it a cost effective way to acquire platinum? Perhaps not. It may be more efficient to wait for the platinum to wash into the sewers, then recover it from there.