The World’s Most Valuable Substances by Weight
In the field of economics, the laws of supply and demand state that the price of a product and its available supply to the market are interconnected. For example, if a good such as crude oil is produced in excess, the price will drop accordingly.
However, sometimes substances are nearly impossible to produce in the first place – and that means that it can be extremely difficult for the market to respond to increases in demand. The world’s most valuable substances generally fall into this category, and this makes their value per gram very high.
White truffles, for instance, only grow for a couple of months of the year almost exclusively from one part of Italy. They must be foraged by special pigs, and they seem to be worth more every year. The price per gram for white truffles is $5, which means that a pound costs close to $2,000.
Despite this, white truffles barely crack the list of the most valuable substances by weight.
Saffron, a spice that is gathered from the flower of the crocus sativus plant, is another notch higher on the spectrum. To get one pound of dry saffron requires the harvest of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers. There’s only 300 tonnes of production each year, and that annual production is worth around $3 billion.
Higher up on the list of the world’s most valuable substances are some familiar metals. Silver does not make the list, as it is only worth around $0.50 per gram. However, many of the platinum group metals (PGMs) do make the list: platinum, palladium, rhodium, and iridium all range between $16 to $27 per gram. Gold also makes the list, and it has traded for more than an ounce of platinum since early 2015. One gram of gold is worth just under $34 per gram.
At the top of the list we find a combination of extremely rare metals, radioactive isotopes, and gemstones.
The radioactive element Californium, first made in 1950, is the most valuable at $27 million per gram. It is one of the few transuranium elements that have practical applications, being used in microscopic amounts for metal detectors and in identifying oil and water layers in oil wells.
Diamonds are near the top of the list as well at $65,000 per gram, though like many other gemstones, the value depends on the specific crystal in question. Many industrial diamonds are relatively cheap, but the rarest and most beautiful stones can be worth millions.
Iranian beluga caviar and Crème de la Mer are the most expensive non-metals or non-gemstones on the list. Iranian caviar is made from the roe of beluga sturgeons found in the Caspian Sea, and it is valued at about $35 per gram. Crème de la Mer was originally created by a physicist for NASA to heal his burns, but it is now sold as a face cream by Estée Lauder for $70 per gram.
Original graphic by: BullionVault
Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone
Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.
Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone
In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.
Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.
While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.
But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.
|Smartphone Part||Critical Metal|
|Display||lanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium|
|Electronics||nickel, gallium, tantalum|
|Battery||lithium, nickel, cobalt|
|Microphone, speakers, vibration unit||nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium|
What’s in Your Pocket?
This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.
1. Touch Screen
Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.
Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.
When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.
Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.
Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.
Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.
The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.
Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.
4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit
Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).
Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.
There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.
Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.
Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.
As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.
This post was originally featured on Elements
Silver Through the Ages: The Uses of Silver Over Time
The uses of silver span various industries, from renewable energy to jewelry. See how the uses of silver have evolved in this infographic.
Silver is one of the most versatile metals on Earth, with a unique combination of uses both as a precious and industrial metal.
Today, silver’s uses span many modern technologies, including solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G devices. However, the uses of silver in currency, medicine, art, and jewelry have helped advance civilization, trade, and technology for thousands of years.
The Uses of Silver Over Time
The below infographic from Blackrock Silver takes us on a journey of silver’s uses through time, from the past to the future.
3,000 BC – The Middle Ages
The earliest accounts of silver can be traced to 3,000 BC in modern-day Turkey, where its mining spurred trade in the ancient Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Traders and merchants would use hacksilver—rough-cut pieces of silver—as a medium of exchange for goods and services.
Around 1,200 BC, the Ancient Greeks began refining and minting silver coins from the rich deposits found in the mines of Laurion just outside Athens. By 100 BC, modern-day Spain became the center of silver mining for the Roman Empire while silver bullion traveled along the Asian spice trade routes. By the late 1400s, Spain brought its affinity for silver to the New World where it uncovered the largest deposits of silver in history in the dusty hills of Bolivia.
Besides the uses of silver in commerce, people also recognized silver’s ability to fight bacteria. For instance, wine and food containers were often made out of silver to prevent spoilage. In addition, during breakouts of the Bubonic plague in medieval and renaissance Europe, people ate and drank with silver utensils to protect themselves from disease.
The 1800s – 2000s
New medicinal uses of silver came to light in the 19th and 20th centuries. Surgeons stitched post-operative wounds with silver sutures to reduce inflammation. In the early 1900s, doctors prescribed silver nitrate eyedrops to prevent conjunctivitis in newborn babies. Furthermore, in the 1960s, NASA developed a water purifier that dispensed silver ions to kill bacteria and purify water on its spacecraft.
The Industrial Revolution drove the onset of silver’s industrial applications. Thanks to its high light sensitivity and reflectivity, it became a key ingredient in photographic films, windows, and mirrors. Even today, skyscraper windows are often coated with silver to reflect sunlight and keep interior spaces cool.
The 2000s – Present
The uses of silver have come a long way since hacksilver and utensils, evolving with time and technology.
Silver is the most electrically conductive metal, making it a natural choice for electronic devices. Almost every electronic device with a switch or button contains silver, from smartphones to electric vehicles. Solar panels also utilize silver as a conductive layer in photovoltaic cells to transport and store electricity efficiently.
In addition, it has several medicinal applications that range from treating burn wounds and ulcers to eliminating bacteria in air conditioning systems and clothes.
Silver for the Future
Silver has always been useful to industries and technologies due to its unique properties, from its antibacterial nature to high electrical conductivity. Today, silver is critical for the next generation of renewable energy technologies.
For every age, silver proves its value.
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