We know that in a Mad Max type of dystopia, people will need “guzzoline,” water, and a way to avoid poisons. The good news? Platinum can, and currently does, provide all three of those. Here’s why people will be killing each other for jewelry after the collapse of civilization.
When a car burns fuel, it usually doesn’t burn that fuel well enough. Fully-burned fuel results in carbon dioxide, and while that’s not great, stopping the process halfway through is worse. Burn not quite enough fuel, and you get long chains of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, plus carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is nasty. While both carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide can smother people, carbon monoxide is the more tenacious of the two. It latches on to hemoglobin and takes time to come unstuck, lowering the overall oxygen-carrying ability of the blood. Long term exposure to carbon monoxide can cause damage to the brain, and is especially harmful to developing fetuses.
What’s the solution? Platinum. That’s all it takes. Platinum has a high, but temporary, affinity for other atoms. This makes it a catalyst, a substance that makes chemical processes go much faster. When nitrogen oxides come spewing from an engine, the platinum rips the nitrogen off the nitrogen oxide. The oxygen molecule comes loose and travels around alone — a rare state for oxygen to be in. As soon as it bumps into carbon monoxide, it combines to form carbon dioxide, completing the “burning” process. Platinum, meanwhile, releases the nitrogen as harmless nitrogen gas, and starts all over again.
That’s two pollutants at least semi-neutralized. What about the hydrocarbons? This is where platinum is very useful. It rips these molecules apart. The carbon atoms team up with more oxygen to form more carbon dioxide. The hydrogen atoms also team up with oxygen. They form water.
This isn’t exotic science. Cars today have catalytic converters that use platinum. But how much more important will the material be when cars become the be-all and end-all of survival? One substance can neutralize two dangerous substances, and also make another very, very useful one. What I’m saying is, don’t carry gold jewelry after the apocalypse, if you can get platinum instead.
[Source: Platinum, by Ian Wood]