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
The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security
Ten materials, including cobalt, lithium, graphite, and rare earths, are deemed critical by all three.
The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. Security
Governments formulate lists of critical minerals according to their industrial requirements and strategic evaluations of supply risks.
Over the last decade, minerals like nickel, copper, and lithium have been on these lists and deemed essential for clean technologies like EV batteries and solar and wind power.
What are Critical Minerals?
There is no universally accepted definition of critical minerals. Countries and regions maintain lists that mirror current technology requirements and supply and demand dynamics, among other factors.
These lists are also constantly changing. For example, the EU’s first critical minerals list in 2011 featured only 14 raw materials. In contrast, the 2023 version identified 34 raw materials as critical.
One thing countries share, however, is the concern that a lack of minerals could slow down the energy transition.
With most countries committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the total mineral demand from clean energy technologies is expected to double by 2040.
U.S. and EU Seek to Reduce Import Reliance on Critical Minerals
Ten materials feature on critical material lists of both the U.S., the EU, and China, including cobalt, lithium, graphite, and rare earths.
|Mineral / Considered Critical||🇺🇸 U.S.||🇪🇺 EU||🇨🇳 China|
Despite having most of the same materials found in the U.S. or China’s list, the European list is the only one to include phosphate rock. The region has limited phosphate resources (only produced in Finland) and largely depends on imports of the material essential for manufacturing fertilizers.
Coking coal is also only on the EU list. The material is used in the manufacture of pig iron and steel. Production is currently dominated by China (58%), followed by Australia (17%), Russia (7%), and the U.S. (7%).
The U.S. has also sought to reduce its reliance on imports. Today, the country is 100% import-dependent on manganese and graphite and 76% on cobalt.
After decades of sourcing materials from other countries, the U.S. local production of raw materials has become extremely limited. For instance, there is only one operating nickel mine (primary) in the country, the Eagle Mine in Michigan. Likewise, the country only hosts one lithium source in Nevada, the Silver Peak Mine.
Despite being the world’s biggest carbon polluter, China is the largest producer of most of the world’s critical minerals for the green revolution.
China produces 60% of all rare earth elements used as components in high-technology devices, including smartphones and computers. The country also has a 13% share of the lithium production market. In addition, it refines around 35% of the world’s nickel, 58% of lithium, and 70% of cobalt.
Among some of the unique materials on China’s list is gold. Although gold is used on a smaller scale in technology, China has sought gold for economic and geopolitical factors, mainly to diversify its foreign exchange reserves, which rely heavily on the U.S. dollar.
Analysts estimate China has bought a record 400 tonnes of gold in recent years.
China has also slated uranium as a critical mineral. The Chinese government has stated it intends to become self-sufficient in nuclear power plant capacity and fuel production for those plants.
According to the World Nuclear Association, China aims to produce one-third of its uranium domestically.
Misc6 days ago
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Technology2 weeks ago
Ranked: Largest Semiconductor Foundry Companies by Revenue
Misc1 week ago
Visualized: EV Market Share in the U.S.
Maps1 week ago
Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People
Retail1 week ago
Ranked: Average Black Friday Discounts for Major Retailers
Business1 week ago
Ranked: Fast Food Brands with the Most U.S. Locations
Economy1 week ago
Visualizing 30 Years of Imports from U.S. Trading Partners
Markets1 week ago
Ranked: The Biggest Retailers in the U.S. by Revenue