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Brief Published: 31 Mar 2020

Disrupting Material Values: 18k Plastic Gold

Researchers at ETH Zurich University have created a lightweight form of 18k gold

Innovative material fusions – where science combines with modern manufacturing – are resulting in more resourceful and efficient material hybrids. In a recent development from researchers at ETH Zurich University, plastic is used to create a lightweight form of 18k gold, offering a new direction for gold blends in various industries.

Conventional 18-carat gold – which has an average density of 15g/cm3 – usually consists of 75% gold and 25% other metallic elements, such as copper. The team have replaced the latter with a matrix of plastic, formed using protein fibres and a polymer latex. It is then embedded with gold nanocrystals and tiny air pockets, which are invisible to the eye.

The new material has the same aesthetic qualities of gold, but the material qualities of plastic, and a density of just 1.7g/cm3. Its hardness can be adjusted by changing the composition, while the latex can be replaced with other plastics, like polypropylene.

While the plastic gold will be particularly significant in the manufacture of watches and jewellery, it’s also suitable for other applications, including electronics and radiation shielding. The cost of the material is as yet undisclosed.

Global economic and geopolitical uncertainty is having an effect on the gold market – read Gold in Context in our Metals for a Modern World report for more scientific developments. Likewise, disruptive approaches in the plastics industry are enhancing the material’s usability and value – see Resetting Plastics and The New Plastics Roadmap for more.