Gold – more than just luxury, a life saver

Written by Catalin Hosu

The World Gold Council demonstrates the global significance of gold beyond luxury items.

The World Gold Council and PwC demonstrate the global significance of gold beyond luxury items.

We tend to think of gold as a luxury – a soft metal, sought after by the rich, but of little intrinsic value.

It looks good in jewellery. It has an undeniable glamour. It underpins reserve currencies. But you can’t use it for anything much.

Wrong – the use of gold is critical in fields like medicine and creates huge value around the world.

A new report by multinational professional services group PwC, and commissioned by the World Gold Council, estimates that the gold industry worldwide contributed over $210 billion USD to the global economy last year. That’s about the same as the GDP of Ireland or the Czech Republic.

In the report Terry Heymann, Director of Gold for Development at the World Gold Council says, ‘From mining and refining, to fabrication and consumer demand, it is clear that gold makes a positive contribution to economic growth along the entire value chain.’

Supporting arguments from the World Gold Council’s report point out that part of the reason for gold’s importance to the world economy is that – unknown to many – it is a highly prized industrial metal with a rapidly growing range of high-tech applications. In particular an entirely new future for gold has opened up in the pioneering field of nanotechnology. It has found new applications most notably in medicine, which uses the reaction of unimaginably small particles of the metal to detect potential killer diseases quickly and accurately.

The World Gold Council reports that gold nanoparticles are a key component of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) which can diagnose malaria and pneumonia, for example – diseases for which urgent treatment can be the key to survival. RDTs are used in their millions by specialists in Africa and elsewhere, and they are helping to save lives every day.

And in 2012 researchers at Imperial College London developed an ultra-sensitive test designed to detect a range of viruses and even cancers. These new tests also rely on gold nanoparticles.

In more conventional medicine, gold exhibits excellent biocompatibility – which means that the body’s immune system tolerates it well when it is used for implanted components. That’s one of the main reasons it has been used in dental work for so many years. It also resists bacterial colonisation, and so is increasingly used for other implanted components where there’s a high risk of infection, for example in the inner ear.

More generally, gold as an industrial metal has a wide range of other valuable properties. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity, and doesn’t tarnish (unlike copper and silver) which makes it indispensable in modern electronics. It’s extremely malleable, and won’t corrode. It’s also an efficient catalyst for speeding reactions and is widely used in the food and chemical industries. It has many applications in the aerospace and automotive industries, too.

At the same time, gold remains hugely important as the bedrock of the world’s financial system. And as jewellery with a unique aura of glamour it is as alluring to us as it was to our ancestors who mined it millennia ago.

But Romania is looking to the future and not the past with Roşia Montană, which will be the largest gold mine in Europe. As gold finds new high-tech applications, the project will be Romania’s gateway to some of the world’s most exciting and rapidly growing industries.

Read the full report from the World Gold Council and PwC.


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