Mining Platinum From The Road

For several decades now all petrol-driven motor vehicles have had to feature a catalytic converter in their exhaust systems to meet the requirements of emissions legislation. These feature a high surface area coated with platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which catalyses the high-temperature breakdown of the exhaust gasses.

When a vehicle reaches the end of its life its catalytic converter is recycled and those metals are recovered, but this recovery does not account for all the metal. [Cody Reeder] noticed that the weight of platinum in a catalytic converter taken from a scrap vehicle is significantly less than that of a new one. Some of that metal has escaped, so where has it gone?

The answer to that question is that it has become detached from the converter and blown out through the rear of the exhaust pipe. Therefore in the area around a busy highway with many thousands of cars passing there must be a reasonable concentration of platinum. The video below the break details [Cody]’s quest to verify that theory, and it opens with him and a friend sweeping dust from beside a freeway in the early hours. The resulting bags contain a lot of gravel and bits of tire, plus a few cigarette butts and a large amount of very fine dust. He sieves away the debris, and heats a sample of dust in a furnace with a flux mixture containing lead oxide. He hopes that as this oxide degrades to metallic lead it will dissolve any platinum and settle in the bottom of his crucible, and indeed when he pours out the resulting slag there is a bead of lead. Taking away the lead reveals a speck of impure platinum, which he further purifies and assays to determine the percentage of platinum and to detect the other catalyst metals.

He finally arrives at a figure of 6.7 g per ton of his fine-sifted roadside dirt “ore”, a figure which as he points out would be considered quite valuable were it to be encountered in a mine. His process might be a little difficult for individuals with sweeping brushes to hit pay dirt and a modern gold rush to descend on their local Interstate, but it’s not impossible that a highways agency equipped with sweeper trucks could have the metal extracted at a more profitable level.

We’ve featured [Cody]’s work here several times before, whether he is refining silver from ore, making his own gunpowder from urine or recreating spent batteries he always can be counted on for an interesting video.

Thanks [Itay] for the tip.

93 thoughts on “Mining Platinum From The Road

      1. I’ve found that “hate” when used to describe bees, spiders, and in some cases dogs frequently translate to “I am uncomfortable admitting being afraid of them and/or incapable of recognizing that my distaste derives from fear.”

        1. You forgot to say IRRATIONAL fear. Seriously we are at the top of the food chain. Be safe of course, but you should fear absolutely zero living creatures on this planet. Except for other people of course.

          1. HowardC – Maybe true, however, there’s a reason US Navy Seals (et al) wear condoms when in the MOTFA. It’s called “NOSEEUMS” – them tiny little buggers will climb up your urethra and lay eggs. (MOTFA – Middle of the f****ing Amazon). I hate to watch that TV show NAKED AND AFRAID. The only one that blew my mind was the US GREEN BERET officer (Bo Stuart) and survival-trainer built like a brick sh**house who knew his way around a Guyana jungle forest like a friggin’ native. He had no problem with the dangerous critters and even ate some of them. He biggest challenge was his female naked partner who just was a royal P.I.T.A. the entire 21 days:

      1. Well, the figure mentioned was 6.7g per /ton./ I would be willing to bet that the lions share of the remainder is indeed rubber and brake lining, along with a decent portion of iron/ steel from the brake drums and rotors rotors, detached nuts and bolts, and freed rust. Glass would probably make up another decent portion. This “ore” seems like it might be rather interesting.

        The biggest problem that I can think of though, is that while constantly replenishing, the amounts of material will likely be much lower on successive passes. As such, building a refinery locally will probably be prohibitive. With larger centralized refineries, the problem of material transport comes into play, as I would imagine that this ore would have to be treated as hazmat.

        1. Needs a mobile refinery. A bigger version of a road sweeper. But I have a feeling most of the good stuff is in the weeds and run-off. A storm sewer trap is the way to go in a big city.

        2. I’d expect the concentration in the top couple of inches of soft shoulder gravel and dirt to be considerably higher, especially along roads that haven’t had major work done in years.

          Vacuum the asphalt and concrete clean and scoop up and sift the fins out of the upper strata next to the road. Should be possible to build a few automated machines to do that.

          1. The same laws of physics governs how gold and platinum is deposited. To make this more profitable they should pan or sluice the silt from highway storm drains. Some of the drain pipes are made of corrugated flashing so they have an inbuilt concentrator.

  1. i read about this just yesterday. as the platinum is going to be airborne how about a row of solar powered fans with a filter to catch all the dust. just collect the filters when they are full. a led on the fan unit could tell you that, and send the filters to johnson mathey, there may be other precious processors,for recycling. when i worked in the jewellery trade we used to collect gold,silver and platinum floor sweepings like that, the cost of the fans would be less than the cost of buying the chemicals and doing to yourself.

  2. i am not sure if that is legal to sweep the roads.

    or at least on the same legal level as fishing and jumping off of the road/bridges into water below and base jumping.

    1. Pretty sure that if you sweeped roads at no cost, the authorities wouldn’t do anything against you, they might even thank you. Blocking traffic however, is something different and would not take long to be prosecuted.

    2. >legal to sweep the roads.

      Yes and no… Prison work details are seen routinely cleaning road side debris.

      The Shawshank Inception: Andy DuFraine – Would loving carry his haul back into his cell to smelt the platinum ore he had collected during outdoor work.

  3. Stanley Tam made a fortune collecting silver that photographers once washed down the drain. This story reminds me of his early attempts to devices a low cost recovery mechanism.

    1. I worked for a company that had a processing lab in one division and all the photo-chemistry when into holding tanks with electrodes in them so that the silver just plated out as large crystals.

  4. Years ago we developed the electronics for a silver recovery system for a customer. He had quite a good thing going for a while selling systems to recover the silver from the chemicals used in developing X-rays photos. The digital age killed that product.
    Collecting the dust economically from the roads would be a problem I think. Also, what is all that dust doing to our lungs?

    1. “what is all that dust doing to our lungs?”

      Reducing your lifespan measurably, if you are really interested look up particulate pollution. However the platinum may be one of the least toxic parts of the dust and may help break down some of the other components with additional energy supplied by sunlight, in the same way that titanium dioxide does.

      1. Given the concentrations involved, silikosis and cancer (from all those VOCs) should kill you several times over before you could notice anything caused by rare metals :P

    2. I have had platinosis from exposure to catalyst dust while working for a oil refining company many years ago. During re-packing of reforming towers we would remove (literally) $1M worth of old catalyst and re-pack with new catalyst. The used catalyst contains small amounts of platinum halides which cause platinosis. It didn’t take much of the dust to cause a month long lung problem.

      1. Fake story bro, platinosis is a chronic disease that does not resolve rapidly as you suggest, assuming you are not telling a flat out lie (which is likely) your diagnosis was incorrect.

        However if you want to dispute that perhaps you can suggest another title to add to our medical library in the Industrial Toxicology section?

      2. My dad had the same issue Larry. But he used to run a junkyard, and they would take the converters off the cars and put them all in a big roll-off to later send to a recycling facility that that specialized in those. He got the bright idea of trying to do some recycling himself, which was a bad idea. And like you said, for the first month he was having serious lung problems and sometimes needed oxygen. He still has problems 15 years latter. He has attacks similar to asthma.

        1. Dude if you are going to fake a story at least look up the the right terms, such as emphysema, anyone that has it and has seen a doctor knows and uses the word when talking to their friends and family.

        2. The rare metals are deposited onto a ceramic matrix. If (and that’s a big if) your story is not complete BS, the problems would be caused from it’s dust, not the metals.

        1. He coughed it up, obviously.

          You know if I had to hire a troop of travelling bullshit artists I’d never pick you because you are such amateurs, sloppy, very sloppy work, poor continuity. And the Larry Dave Mark etc. pattern was detected the first time you used it, re doing so was just lazy.

          1. Holy shit.

            I can confirm that ‘Larry’, ‘David’, ‘James’, ‘Brad’, ‘Mark’ and ‘Walter’ are the same person in this thread. It’s all the same IP. You know that little box where you enter your email to leave a comment? Guy didn’t even change that.

            He’s also going by ‘Sarah’ in the BBC Micro post.

          2. Well I guess you can’t give me the IP, so you need to deal with the pervert yourself. However you can tell us the rough GeoIP location so we can add that to the pattern for recognition. To the nearest 10 km will be fine and there is no privacy risk with that.

            The issue with them is that they are actually polluting HAD with misinformation, and that could harm people one day depending on what they claim obviously. But the danger is there and therefore so is the potential liability for HAD, and their owners.

          3. That’s funny and disturbing.. What kind of person takes the time to do that, with seemingly very little gain? I wonder how many threads on the internet are like that

          4. What sort of person is that stupid? A very childish one, and It is a dangerous game to play given how good author identification systems are and the fact that the internet never really forgets anything in a text form. As far back as 2012 people from Berkeley had systems that could catch people with a remarkable level of accuracy.

            Don’t be surprised if your submitted work or even job applications are used to see what you may have been posing on the web in previous years. It isn’t just photos of you doing stupid things that can haunt you for a very long time.

            If you are very smart you can game the system and transform your text before posting it to emulate another person, but if that person has use anomalies in their text to encode a signature you are going to get caught.

            All that aside, as far as the law is concerned “I’m am cretin” is not a legally valid defence, unless you have actually being diagnosed as one.

          5. Could be a crappy internet provider. I’m not convinced my ISP has more than 1 outside visible IP address, since they keep the non-business customers behind a huge 10.x.x.x NAT. And still won’t admit to rerouting to an internal 10.x.y.z location.

          6. Hi guys! I’m in Ann Arbor too. It’s super creepy how Dan is so interested in where these people are, and then he brings up stalking… What a weirdo. Stranger Danger!

          1. Replying to Dan ###
            If you see my ip it usually traces to meadow lake or Regina Sk as my provider sktell masks it with theirs. Drives me nuts with creepy local fake adds from company’s j know dont exist here. Ohh well guess they try to shadow and protect customers that have no clue how the net works.

  5. I now kick myself for not submitting that link when I saw this posted on the first day it was up. I could have sworn I saw another article on this subject a number of years back. (not hinting that the due diligence isn’t being done by the HAD staff but I’m probably wrong which is why i just nodded at the novelty of this)

  6. I just did some very rough math. I watched this video a while ago and don’t recall if he stated the approximate weight of the gravel he collected, so I am assuming it weighs 1 kilogram. I am also guesstimating that he swept a 5 square foot section of road. Assuming a road sweeper could collect the dirt with the same level of efficiency as Cody (better is better), on a single 12 foot wide lane it would take about 50-55 miles to collect enough unrefined material to generate 1 kilogram of refined Platinum ($32,092.88). Not sure how cost effective this would be if you take into account the cost of driving a street sweeper for that distance, salary of the driver, and the refining process. Also, my calculation may be way off.

    1. Was that per ton of ‘raw ore’ or per ton of the sifted out fine material? If it’s per ton of the fines, then heck yes someone should be out sucking the roads clean. Just think of the goodies that get sealed in when a new layer of asphalt is laid on top of an old road.

    2. Actually, they do. So it wouldn’t be to difficult to reconfigure/re-purpose the sweepers to collect the gravel for refinement. But as someone else pointed out, The amount of platinum being collected would drastically decrease with each subsequent pass (though, since they are sweeping anyway, I suppose that doesn’t matter either, especially if they sweep regularly where Cody lives).

      I wonder if they could set up a mobile refining process, or at least partial, that can be mounted to the sweeper.

    3. It’s funny how some people speculate about this while a French company has been doing it for years and makes $1 million a year mining palladium, rhodium and platinum from sweeping UK streets. It’s a fascinating topic, I just wish it wasn’t presented as a something completely new.

      1. I don’t know why UK Parliament is allowing this without a cut of the action. Here in USA our govt confiscates any gold at shipwrecks or at natural undiscovered gold mines. That’s why no one really reports it here, especially on a TV shows (documentaries) about gold finds. Those guys in Alaska on the discovery channel are obviously lying about the amount of gold they are collecting out in the ocean. Our IRS can be brutal in such matters. If you find a Spanish Galleon off the coast of Florida loaded with gold – STFU!!! :-)

        We have a US MARINE military training base in California Chocolate Mountains that has alluvial gold right out in the open! No one touches it. Why I dunno! In our East River in NYC right off the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge is a sunken Civil War Union Army paymaster ship laden with Gold coins. Nobody has touched it? Why I dunno! The East River is a tidal estuary and the currents are brutal.

        We have Capt Kidd’s treasure STILL sitting as gold dust in copper pots on a tiny island off the coast of Bridgeport CT (USA). The state government KNOWS it’s there as it was scientifically proven to them with GPR technology. But nobody has touched it! Maybe somebody HAS touched all of these sites but nobody is talking any more due to our IRS? Maybe? I dunno…

    1. From the brake pads? I thought most were composite materials now. And they used the safer version of asbestos. That said, you wouldn’t see me doing anything with highway dust!

        1. From what I can remember last time asbestos was in the news, so a while ago, brown asbestos is the least worse, and isn’t immediately freak-out panic bad. Of course it’s still quite bad. But in buildings containing it, the best thing is just to leave it there, after so many years it settles down, any dust it released has long been hoovered up, so generally it does less damage than trying to remove it would do.

          White asbestos is worse, and blue asbestos is like plutonium cyanide. More or less.

          Anything can be “safer”, it’s all relative. Still, in one way it’s surprising that people were using the miracle material for so many centuries before anyone realised what a mess it made of your lungs. I suppose sophisticated medical imaging is something we take for granted, as well as people’s right to work somewhere that won’t kill them, but they’re quite recent ideas.

          In the past people were riddled with disease and premature death anyway. Even now we don’t have a baseline of healthy people to measure against, with all the shit in the air, water, and food.

          1. Oh no, wait, it’s the white stuff, chrysotile, that’s least worse. Brown is worse. Chrysotile was used for brake linings.

            Doesn’t really matter, but I’ll formally advise anyone not to undertake asbestos removal based on the knowledge of some guy on a web board. Thank you.

          2. Only expertise i have in the matter is a year or two of auto in school, 2 years of a&p, and near 10 in construction, by all means help yourself to all the asbestos you can handle.

          3. People knew asbestos was toxic for most of the time it was in widespread use. The asbestos industry continued regardless because there was money in it.

          4. That is very true, in fact the there are Roman records that show that they also knew of it’s harm to the lungs of their slaves who worked as miners.

        2. @ Greenaum

          Thank you for posting a clarification. I didn’t expect anyone to think I was calling asbestos safe or endorsing breathing it!

          I don’t endorse sweeping up brake dust; weather it’s from 2020 or 1920.

          1. “Guy on the Internet” I was referring to myself! And my somewhat confused recollection of the whole thing.

            I said “safer” is relative. This is probably safer than, I dunno, juggling flaming chainsaws. That was my point, you mentioned the safer version of asbestos. You were correct in saying some asbestos is safer than others, even if it’s all fairly hazardous.

  7. Reported in the Daily Telegraph in 2013. The company running street weeping trucks is harvesting precious metals from the debris they collect to the tune of £1 Million a year.

  8. I find it somewhat unfair that so many people are entirely dismissing the novelty of his idea. It may be fact that he wasn’t the first to realize this and test it, but, if he was completely unaware of the fact, it is a brilliant and novel concept (see the previous “1 million a year” posts.)
    It shows a critical thinking capability that, I feel, should be encouraged, even if it’s already being done.
    So, my take:
    It’s a great idea, unfortunately there is someone in Europe that’s already doing it, but maybe it’s not being done here and could warrant further inquiry into whether or not it would be feasible and possible here. Maybe it’s a process that doesn’t have legal protection.

  9. I probably should not say this as I’d hate for the old surplus PC’s and laptops to just evaporate as they can be re-purposed for mundane HaD tasks – but here goes! Did you know there is a huge industry to recycle the expansion boards in old PC’s because the LANDS are made of GOLD!!?? Yes that old IBM PC gathering dust in your basement or attic is a gold mine waiting to be exploited. Evidently there are other parts in there too made of gold. And your old cell phones have COLTAN which is used for tantalum capacitors as well as cell phones. DRC (Congo) is the only place on Earth rich in Coltan but some have been recycling old cell phones for it too. Ever see those old cell phone collection stations? No they are not going to military people or disabled people. Nobody wants an old cell phone when USG gives new ones out free to poor people and cell phone companies do free ones too.

    I like the Platinum harvesting from CC’s (Catalytic Converters). However, here in USA some idiots have stooped to black marketing people’s CC’s by going under parked cars at night with a hacksaw blade and stealing the whole thing! They even do this at new car lots too right under the CCTV cameras! When you start your brand new Honda Accord or Mercedes you sound like you have no more muffler. It’s still there, just your CC is gone! And your alarm system saw nothing at all. Figure out how to wire your undercarraige into your burglar alarm.

    1. In some states the scrapyards won’t accept a catalytic converter unless it is attached to the rest of a vehicle or if it is obviously a piece of junk. Where I am you have to get your driver’s license scanned.
      There is a LOT of metal theft going on nowadays. :(

      1. Yes! Especially here in USA. Just leave an old bike out on the sidewalk or a piece of metal junk and VOOOSH! it’s gone! Come to find out you can get money at metal recycling yards here in Connecticut (USA). I did not know that.

        Also a neat project for someone is to try and build a BLOOMBOX (a new high tech Hydrogen Fuel Cell). Evidently PLATINUM is one of the constituent ingredients.

    2. You see stuff about recycling gold from electronics, but I think the money’s more in selling “how-to” guides and DVDs than the actual metal. There mustn’t be more than a penny or two’s worth in my whole computer. Gold plating is thin, on purpose.

      Tantalum I dunno, but obviously the cash value of a capacitor’s worth of tantalum is significantly less than the price of a tantalum cap. Looking about though, I found some places on the web who buy old electronics specifically to scavenge the previous metals, so I suppose there’s a profit in it if you crush the stuff up by the ton, and have the machines to do it on that scale.

      1. Oh hell, I’ll put the link up

        No idea if this company is any good or not. For all I know, you bring them your scrap electronics and they chloroform you and steal your kidneys. But it’s interesting to see the range of stuff that can be recycled. The page in the link is for RAM, which apparently contains enough precious metals to be worth recycling.

        Wonder what happens to the gigatonnes of plastic and PCB material they must produce? Any good for filling roads?

        1. Here in USA we want nothing to do with PCB’s. Recycled PVC (plastic) is OK for a lot of things. When we do site remediation PCB is high on the list. Also Asbestos which can cause Mesothelioma. I have no idea what we do with the stuff. Landfills probably. Can’t incinerate it. Maybe we bury it at Hanford WA or Yucca Mountain (Area-51)? True story. We do stupid crap like that. POTUS Clinton made a big stink in 1990’s about PCB contamination at Area-51 (Edwards AFB Nellis Range). It seems to show up at a lot of our military bases too.

          1. Lol, no.
            There is more than one meaning for PCB…

            Printed Circuit Board, and then there’s a horrible class of chemicals that is banned almost everywhere. There are still barrels of this stuff buried and leaking in places. :(
            Bad stuff. Pretty much ruins a person’s whole body.

            I honestly wasn’t sure if you were talking the same PCBs here. The PCB’s at the base was the polychlorinated biphenyl crap.
            Circuit boards are frequently dumped in landfills or incinerated, but recycling is becoming profitable. There are several companies that are taking the crushed remains (after the components and metals are removed) and using them in concrete.

          2. notarealemail – Yes – Polychlorinated biphenyls were used as dielectric (electrical insulation) and coolant fluids in heat-producing electrical apparatus, carbonless copy paper and in heat transfer liquids. What NELLIS AFB (div of Edwards AFB) was using it for is anyone’s guess. Probably dumping and burning or Incinerating at a local trash dump, cables and wires for old equipment like old communications systems, old carbonless forms, and spent coolants for all sorts of PW&A and GE engines. Clinton said they weren’t disposing of the stuff properly and some civilian employees were filing class action suits for carcinogen exposure. It appears everyone has given up on that area and are burying all kinds of crap there, especially at Yucca Mountain. Being it’s NEVADA it might as well be NORTHERN NEW JERSEY. (bada bing bada boom?)

          3. Actually I read years ago about a sort of electric-arc plasma thing, for disposing of all the most horrible chemicals. It’s just unbelievably hot, anything you squirt into it dissociates into it’s component atoms, which them combine into nice harmless things like CO2 and the like. Well, more harmless than they started off, y’know.

            Seems like it would be expensive, but for the worst stuff probably a lot cheaper than putting it in barrels forever. Well, cheaper than SAFELY putting it in barrels forever.

          4. Greenaum – Here in the states (USA) we have something called E.P.A. It’s a federal agency that regulates stuff like burning PCB’s. Then there are the autonomous state agencies. Here in Connecticut we have D.E.E.P. All of them go nuts when companies burn dangerous stuff even with plasma beams. So they go “bada bing bada boom” and make under the table deals with guys named “Joey” or “Mikey” to take barrels of the PCB or aluminum by-products stuff and bury it in their back yards. Or dump sodium fluoride in the public water supply under the guise of American Dental Association modern mythology – showing that we Yanks can be EXTREMELY stoopid sometimes.- ADA never said the stuff was to be drank only scrubbed on teeth and spit out! Hey but “wadda-yah-gonna-do”? As they say “It’s the big city!”.

            We also have O.S.H.A. and D.O.L. that goes nuts when employees have to breath the PCB by-products during burning. We Yanks love our alphabet soup! The only ones Joey and Mikey are afraid of is the one called D.O.J. as they are usually undocumented independent contractors for the “other” soupers. We Yanks are doomed to repeat stuff as we forget so much stuff that we really shouldn’t.

            Yes, if I cleaned out my hoard of crap I probably could fund a tiny country. But I’m also too stoopid to do anything to increase my wealth or do something noteworthy. I envy you Brits as you guys have so many brainiacs like Dr. Hawkin but we have this “genius”:

      2. Greenaum – True… however, gold as of right now is going at 28 (GBP) per gram (28 quid?) That’s $1,268 (USD) per ounce! An ounce is not much…Coltan is running at $400 (USD) per kg since 2015. You’d need a lot of old cell phones. Coltan mining is still primitive and Nokia will probably offer top dollar but they are in Sweden I think. Platinum is running at $1,010 (USD) per ounce.

        1. Yeah, I heard gold had gone up a few years ago, when all the sleazy “cash for gold” shops started arriving. That, and taking advantage of people being desperately poor, selling jewellery they paid a fortune for. From your New Jersey comment I’ll guess you’ve seen the “Cash For Gold” South Park episode.

          You’d think all those shops would increase supply enough for the price to drop a bit. But even so, as far as recycling goes, how much gold do you think there is in your house, or street, on printed circuit boards? Or as many boards as you could scavenge? You’d be lucky to get that 28 quid. Enough just about to buy the instructional DVD.

          1. Here in Connecticut (USA) we are loaded with PAWN SHOPS (cash for gold etc.). Our adverts (tv commercials) are comical: “Hey folks! Good Ol’ Joe gave me $2,000 dollars for all this gold I stole from my mother’s estate!” (actually burgled his neighbor’s flat – but Good Ol’ Joe doesn’t care just as long as you can supply a receipt for the state police). But the wanker thinks he hit a windfall. Good Ol’ Joe laughs and says to his partner: “Moron! If only he knew that gold stash he brought in was actually worth $15,000 bucks! And I only gave him $2 grand! LOL!”

            No I didn’t see that South Park episode. I’m going to look it up.

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