The oceans are one of the most underappreciated environments in the universe.
They contain some of the oldest sedimentary rocks on the planet, and they have long been suspected of being rich in metals.
And yet they’re often completely barren.
“There are only a handful of places in the world where the water is pristine and the atmosphere is pure,” says Dr. David Buell, a professor of oceanography and Earth sciences at the University of California, Irvine.
That’s because of the ways the oceans convert their organic material to metal, according to a new study published online in the journal Science Advances.
Buella has spent his career studying the processes that take place in the oceans.
His research has focused on the conversion of metals in the atmosphere into their more common, heavier forms.
He’s been looking at ways to convert oxygen and carbon dioxide into their heavier, more reactive forms.
Buesll, who was the principal investigator of the new study, found that the oceans are very efficient at converting oxygen into metals and that it’s important for humans to understand how they do it.
“We need to understand that oxygen is the fuel for these reactions, and we need to know how they work, so we can create more efficient engines,” Bueslla says.
And that’s where his lab’s metal lacquerers come in.
“They’re a laboratory of sorts where we can see these reactions occurring in real time, and that’s how we can do it,” Bueell says.
In their lab, Buello and his colleagues create the catalysts that catalyze the metal oxidation process, which produces the metal in the form of platinum or gold.
The process is so fast that the lab can only use one catalyst per square meter of ocean surface.
In the lab, the lab’s lab-made catalysts can be easily transported, but Buesllo and co-workers are developing new catalysts so they can be transported anywhere, he says.
It’s also a critical step in developing a more efficient way of using carbon dioxide as a catalyst, he adds.
Bacteria that live in the ocean can take up carbon dioxide, which reacts with organic matter in the water to produce metal oxides like platinum.
Once the oxygen in the oxygen is converted into metal, the metal can be oxidized and turned into platinum, a process that takes only a few days.
Bucell and his team found that it took about a month to convert a gram of water into about 30 grams of platinum.
“It’s a pretty small amount of carbon dioxide to get something that’s a thousand times lighter,” Bucello says.
The team also developed a way to make the process so efficient that it can be used in the production of a wide range of metals.
Buingll says they were able to convert about two kilograms of water to about 10 kilograms of platinum per day.
“This is about five times more efficient than using fossil fuels to produce platinum,” Buinglla says, which is the primary energy source for the oceans today.
Buhll says the lab-based metal lacquer process could be useful in other applications.
“A lot of the time, the oceans will just not work,” Buhl says.
“So you need to go to a lab, and you can make a material that is much more stable, and it’s just easier to do that with metal lacering.”