Unlike the alchemical solutions sought by Isaac Newton, among others, this discovery won’t make the chemists suddenly and inexplicably wealthy – it can’t be used to make fake gold. But that hasn’t stopped some commenters from speculating that the development might lead to the precious metal losing its place as a stock market and economic hedge standard – perhaps to an electronic alternative such as Bitcoin.
But cryptocurrencies, with their current planet-destroying energy demands, are about as far from the researchers’ goals as possible. They instead see their discovery as an essential – and lucrative – way to take on the challenges of the modern world.
Not only do their resistance to oxidization and low reactivity make gold and silver perfect for industrial uses – there’s a veritable jewelry box inside your smartphone, for instance – noble metals are also used in sophisticated chemical processes that can transform coal into useful and clean resources like ethanol.
“The clean utilization of coal resources to synthesize high value-added chemicals is greatly desired with the increasing energy and environmental problems,” explains the paper.
“[Methyl glycolate] … is an essential intermediate with higher commercial price than [other substances] for the synthesis of pharmaceutical products, fine chemicals, and perfumes. However, [methyl glycolate] is difficult to be gained via copper catalysts … [so] the development of an efficient catalyst to control and regulate the target products is still a great challenge for both academia and industry.”