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Modern Alchemy

44 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 25 January 2014

We look at some of the most ingenious ways in which entrepreneurs and scientists are turning useless junk into precious gold…or at least extracting the elements we can go on using. Joining Bridget Kendall are water refiner Alison Lewis, road-dust miner Angela Murray; and global recycling analyst Adam Minter.

  • Adam Minter

    Adam Minter by BBC

    Adam Minter is an American writer and journalist based in China and the US, and is Shanghai correspondent for Bloomberg World View.  Adam has covered the global recycling industry for more than a decade, and his first book is Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.  He believes that Western recycling should be allowed to flow to where it is needed most; if China didn’t import these resources, it would have to dig and drill for them.  He says even the worst, dirtiest recycling is still better than the very best clear-cut forest or the most up-to-date open-pit mine.

  • Angela Murray

    Angela Murray by BBC
    Dr Angela Murray is a chemical engineer, and a Knowledge Transfer Fellow in the School of Biosciences at Birmingham University, in the UK.   She was BBSRC Enterprise Fellow 2009-2010, for her university spin out company Roads to Riches. The company uses bacteria to convert platinum group metals lost from cars’ catalytic converters back into usable industrial catalyst. The company’s innovative methods apply new technology to traditional methods of concentrating valuable metals in order to retrieve the metals from road dust. 
  • Alison Lewis

    Alison Lewis photo is c/o Alison Lewis

    Professor Alison Lewis is Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town.  She believes acid mine drainage is an environmental disaster in South Africa, and that existing water treatment technologies have reached their limits.   She and her colleagues have developed a new technique called Eutectic Freeze Crystallization, which can freeze contaminated water down to the eutectic point, and recover both the water (as ice) and the contaminants (as pure, usable salts).  

  • 60 Second Idea to Change the World: Drone Cones

    Traffic cones by BBC

    Angela Murray wants flying ‘drone cones’ to solve the problem of traffic lanes on motorways being ‘coned off’ even when there are no road-works happening.   If it’s too difficult to get take the cones in and out manually at the end of every day, then operators could control these drone cones remotely instead, using GPS to accurately position them wherever they are needed.  Whenever work is stopped, the cones could be flown away for storage or sent to another location.  If they had a solar cell on top of them then they even could self-recharge whilst deployed!

  • In Next Weeks’ Programme

    We’ll be setting up traps: for those elusive subatomic particles called neutrinos, for the equally shy nocturnal animals and for the favourite quarry of modern corporations: obsessive players of computer games.



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