Image credit: lockitup.com
Sometimes when people explain what trace elements are doing in a plant, we can start to think we need a PhD in Chemistry and Physics. This is certainly not the case. The basic concept behind trace elements is quite simple; they are catalysts.
Catalysts increase the rate of a reaction. A lot of the processes in a plant are essentially reactions. Catalysts cause reactions to occur faster and use less energy. They aren’t consumed in the reaction, so once they’re done with one reaction, they’re ready to move on to the next. Many reactions inside a plant occur so ridiculously slowly without a catalyst that they might as well not occur at all.
This is where the car key concept comes from, without the key (catalyst) you can’t go. You can have the fanciest most expensive car, but without the keys, your not going anywhere.
A similar way of thinking about catalysts is in the firing pin of a gun. You can have the bullet loaded, all this energy in the gun powder, but unless you’ve got that pin to fire it, you can’t do a lot.
Think about the turbo in your tractor, it allows you to get more power from the same engine. The ‘CAT’ converter in modern vehicles is actually called a ‘catalytic converter’, because it contains a lot of catalysts. It is made of a honeycomb structure with mainly Platinum, along with Palladium and Iridium. These elements have the ability to catalyse reactions between compounds in the exhaust air. Reactions such as:
-Oxygen and carbon monooxide into carbon dioxide
-Hydrocarbons (unburnt fuel) and oxygen into carbon dioxide and water
-Nitrogen-oxides into oxygen and nitrogen gas