Sciencemadness Discussion Board

If earth's resources were differently divided?

Fyndium - 17-10-2020 at 10:47

I have always wondered, how different our world would be if earth's crust were enriched of all kinds of materials that are now exceedingly rare, like noble metals, heavy elements, etc?

If gold were as common as lead, what would be made out of it? Would we be using platinum silverware instead of stainless steel? Chrome plating would be made out of gold? Industry would build everything from tantalum instead of complex alloys? DU would be substituted with stuff like osmium? Nuclear proliferation would suffer from the fact that people could just dig enough material with spade?

If we wouldn't be putting too much extent to the fact that earth's gravitational and magnetic properties could be different, lots of radioactive material on crust might have prevented life in the first place, etc?

Dr.Bob - 17-10-2020 at 16:34

Its not entirely that most elements are rare, its just that they are not concentrated very well. There is a huge amount of gold and uranium (and other metals) in the ocean, we just need to figure out how to separate it. The floor of the ocean is covered with manganese in some places. And there is a small amount of gold in many quartz deposits, some the size of mountains (Mount Roberts in Juneau for example), but removing it requires mining and crushing tons of rock and then extracting the gold with cyanide or other chemicals. But the number of thick veins of gold is pretty small, mostly in Africa.

Fyndium - 18-10-2020 at 00:46

Rarity is indeed a relative term, but the concept here was just that there would be literally veins of everything, just pick it up by hand if you will, instead of going through a mega-scale industrial process to extract few pounds of gold at best.

Gold has only value because it's rare. Many other nice looking things, like crystal glass is pretty much worthless because it can be made by the ton.

I always used the Tolkien's Hobbit and Mt Erebor and the dragon's gold as an example of inflation. There were few people in the Middle-earth, but a mountainful of gold. Although being rare at the hands of the people because it was all concentrated at one place, it's value would plummet the moment it spread out.

If someone were to bring a metal asteroid, which contain huge deposits of metals that are rare on earth's crust due to having sunk to the core, markets would react if suddenly few million tons of gold were released. It won't sell on the spot price anymore.

metalresearcher - 18-10-2020 at 01:47

Gold is being mined from (mostly) underground, then refined and processed and lots of it is stored underground again in the vaults, there are thousands of tons (even thousands of cubic meters) being there useless for indefinite times. This a very bad waste of a precious resource and the environment.
All the gold in the vaults should be 'mined' again and used where the remaining mined non-vault gold is used for : electronics, jewelry and other applications, rather than storing it in the ground. That saves lots of environmental mining damage and energy as well.
Gold prices will drop (at least temporarily) and is that a problem ? Yes a problem for the greedy speculating capitalists...

Fyndium - 18-10-2020 at 05:43

Well the market dynamics are a matter of themselves. I would not like to have my gold investments plummet, even though I only own bitcoins.

The whole concept of this topic is based on the matter that the rare and noble materials are used more as an investment instrument, not their intrinsic value, because they are RARE. The price is generally just a representation of rarity, except for few anomalies like taxation, etc.

The mindgame here was exactly that if they were NOT rare, how would they be used? Let's say that gold, platinum, tantalum and phletora of other high value stuff were to cost 1-50 bucks per kg (and being available by millions of tons like steel is), what use they would find in the industry and common life?

(Because based on research there are planets that have mountains made of gold and diamond, seas made of hydrocarbons(gasoline, methane, etc) and other things that would be absolutely out of the question on earth.

elementcollector1 - 18-10-2020 at 06:48

Frankly, this would have been much more of a problem 70 years ago than it is today. Back then, the gold standard for currency (defining the worth of each currency by a given weight in gold) was generally accepted as inviolable, and gold supply and demand was heavily controlled because of it. Now that we seem to have figured out that all currencies by definition are imaginary and can thus be arbitrarily defined relative to anything, the only immediate effect massive inflation of gold supply would have is that gold demand and price would both plummet.

Incidentally, this would also open up gold chemistry and physics to industrial scale - computer integrated circuit chips would now use gold instead of copper or aluminum, LEDs and lightbulbs and other devices would use gold leads, etc. It's one of the best conductors around, so why not use it if we have mountains of the stuff?

For other materials, like platinum and iridium (and other PGM's), this would have much less of a noticeable effect - yes, the price would also plummet, but they don't have enough industry-scale consumer applications for them to be of much note. In a clever twist of irony, they'd likely become cheap jewelry.

In fact, it's worth bringing up that this scenario (an ultra-rare element suddenly becoming ultra-common and the price dropping consequently) has actually happened before. Prior to the invention of the Bayer and Hall-Heroult processes for isolating aluminum from alumina (bauxite), it was commonly produced by reduction of anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium metal, yielding a powder of aluminum that could then be melted further. This put aluminum's rarity on par with gold at the time, despite being so abundant in the crust, and the most famous example of this is the Washington Monument being capped with aluminum to show off its expensive construction (which, nowadays, is pretty laughable).

But once molten electrolysis of alumina became widespread, and was further refined by the introduction of cryolite to the melt... suddenly aluminum metal was cheap and easy to produce. Products like tin cans and tin foil were being replaced by the much cheaper and superior aluminum cans and foil, and it eventually became the lighter, slightly less strong and only slightly more expensive analogue to steel, used where steel alloys were overkill or too heavy. Aluminum's now the second cheapest metal by production volume in the world, and it's used for anything and everything.

So, to answer your first question, likely all of those things (or something like them) would happen. Chromium would be replaced by gold or platinum (likely platinum for stainless alloys under load, gold for decorative or corrosion-resistance applications like silverware). Interestingly, applications that require low density for increased efficiency (cars, planes, etc.) would be the most likely to be unaffected, as most rare metals happen to be dense. Osmium and iridium would likely replace brass as weighing standards (and would substantially decrease the size of said standards as well). All electrical and industrial applications of copper would be replaced by gold (wouldn't it be cool to see gold tubing at the hardware store?) If we include gemstone materials like diamond and sapphire, cellphones would likely have diamond screens (assuming we could find diamonds big enough, if we couldn't we'd stick with artificially-grown monocrystalline sapphire like we're doing now).

...And, personally, I'd probably have a much easier time panning for gold.

Mateo_swe - 25-10-2020 at 09:57

Most of the metals on earth is melted at the center core where they move around and contribute to our magnetic field that protects us from the suns radiation.
If all metals where spread evenly and a large part not melted at the core our magnetic field would be smaller and thats a bad thing for many reasons.

[Edited on 2020-10-25 by Mateo_swe]
Can i spell today? apparently not.

[Edited on 2020-10-25 by Mateo_swe]