Japanese researchers have used nanotechnology to develop a process which resembles something out of a 16th Century alchemy textbook. Although not producing gold, as was the aim of the alchemists, the scientists have discovered a technique that allows otherwise inert elements to be combined to form new intermediate alloy-elements. So far, an alloy of palladium has been created by mixing silver and rhodium together.
Professor Hiroshi Kitagawa and his team used nanotechnology to combine rhodium and silver to produce an alloy with similar properties to palladium, which is located between rhodium and silver on the periodic table. These two metals usually would not mix, as rhodium has 45 electrons and silver 47, and so are stable elements unable to react with each other under normal conditions. The research team overcame this hurdle by mixing rhodium and silver in solution which was then turned into a mist and mixed with heated alcohol. This process produced particles of the new alloy that are around 10 nanometres in diameter.
The new alloy has properties similar to the rare metal palladium. Part of the platinum group of metals, palladium should not to be confused with the rare earth minerals (also known as rare earth metals), a collection of seventeen elements in the periodic table, namely scandium, yttrium, and the fifteen lanthanides. Although the platinum group of metals are distinct from the rare earth metals, they are still hard to come by due to their global distribution and concentration.
The properties of palladium and other platinum group metals account for their widespread use in electronics, manufacturing, medicine, hydrogen purification, chemical applications and groundwater treatment.
Although the new alloy will be difficult to produce commercially, Kitagawa intends to use the production method to develop other alloys for use as alternative rare metals. Kitagawa has begun joint research with auto manufactures to further his research. The alloy was produced by researchers at Kyoto University, Japan.