How to Find Platinum on the Side of the Road

By George Dvorsky on at

Platinum is one of the rarest and most useful metals on the planet. A new video from Cody’s Lab explains why a significant amount of this precious element exists in the dirt and dust by the roadside — and shows how it can be extracted.

Mining for precious metals on the side of a highway is a different take on urban foraging. But as these guys show in the video, there’s a significant amount of platinum on the tarmac just waiting to be collected and extracted. Of course, mining it will take a bit of sweeping and a lot of chemistry.

The platinum deposits are there because most catalytic converters in cars these days contain upwards of two to three grams of platinum. It’s estimated that, after about 100,000 miles, a catalytic converter loses about half of its platinum. Basic math tells us that this wastage adds up over time, particularly along high volume stretches of road such as highways. Obviously, some of this platinum blows and washes away, but it’s reasonable to assume that some of it sticks around in the dirt and dust by the roadside.

To test this theory out, Cody and his buddy Arthur from Ask Arthur collected samples of dirt from the side of a popular highway. After putting it through a number of tests and chemical processes, the two were able to confirm that you can find platinum by the side of the road, and all that seemingly useless dirt actually contains some very valuable ore.

This isn’t just idle speculation. Platinum, which is used in everything from catalytic converters and lab equipment through to thermometers and jewelry, is one of the rarer elements in the Earth’s crust. Only a few hundred tons are produced annually, making it an major precious metal commodity.

[Cody’s Lab]