There’s Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining
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If humans were ever able to get their hands on just one asteroid, it would be a game-changer.
That’s because the value of many asteroids are measured in the quintillions of dollars, which makes the market for Earth’s annual production of raw metals – about $660 billion per year – look paltry in comparison.
The reality is that the Earth’s crust is saddled with uneconomic materials, while certain types of asteroids are almost pure metal. X-type asteroids, for example, are thought to be the remnants of large asteroids that were pulverized in collisions in which their dense, metallic cores got separated from the mantle.
There is one such X-type asteroid near earth that is believed to hold more platinum than ever mined in human history.
Near-Earth Mining Targets
Asteroid mining companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are the first-movers in the sector, and they’ve already started to identify prospective targets to boldly mine where no man has mined before.
Both companies are looking specifically at near-Earth asteroids in the near-term, which are the easiest ones to get to. So far, roughly 15,000 such objects have been discovered, and their orbits all come in close proximity to Earth.
While these will be important for verifying the feasibility of asteroid mining, the reality is that near-Earth asteroids are just tiny minnows in an ocean of big fish. Their main advantage is that they are relatively easy to access, but most targets identified so far are less than 1,000 ft (300 m) in diameter – meaning the potential economic payoff of a mission is still unclear.
Where the Money is Made
The exciting part of asteroid mining is the asteroid belt itself, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. It is there that over 1 million asteroids exist, including about 200 that are over 60 miles (100 km) in diameter.
NASA estimates this belt to hold $700 quintillion of bounty. That’s about $100 billion for each person on Earth.
There are obviously many technical challenges that must be overcome to make mining these possible. As it stands, NASA aims to bring back a grab sample from the surface of asteroid Bennu that is 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) in size. The cost of the mission? Approximately $1 billion.
To do anything like that on a large scale will require robots, spacecraft, and other technologies that simply do not exist yet. Further, missions like this could cost trillions of dollars – a huge risk and burden in the case that a mission is unsuccessful.
Until then, the near-Earth asteroids are the fertile testing ground for aspirational asteroid miners – and we look forward to seeing what is possible in the future.
Visualizing the Potential of Smart Mining
Smart mining technology is helping to enhance safety, increase production, and optimize resources by analyzing large swaths of real-time data.
Visualizing the Potential of Smart Mining
View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here
Mining has traditionally been depicted with pack mules, pickaxes, and rugged prospectors.
However, it may surprise you to learn that today’s mining industry is precisely the opposite in almost every respect. It’s high-tech, efficient, and safe.
This is partially because modern mining companies are deploying the latest in sensor and cloud technology. These connected mines are improving the extraction process and workers’ safety while also boosting productivity.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Natural Resources Canada and discusses how this sensor and cloud technology can be integrated into the extractive process.
What is Smart Mining?
A connected mine uses data from sensor technology to effectively manage underground and pit mining operations.
“Any mining operation today will have in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of sensors capturing in real time a vast swath of data.”
– Mukani Moyo, McKinsey Senior Expert (Source)
From a single application on a mobile device, supervisors at mine sites can now receive alerts via SMS, email or in-app notifications. This helps them react to critical problems in real-time and maximize productivity.
In addition, advanced data analytics can be applied to the raw data to create insights, visualizations, and recommendations. This information is delivered to mine managers and employees in real-time on their mobile devices.
Case Study: Smart Solutions in Practice
Dundee Precious Metals was one of the first companies to bring wireless networks into an underground mine. The company used RFID and Wi-Fi to monitor the location of equipment and people. The networks also allowed personnel to stay connected to the surface.
Once the networks were installed, communication was reliable and instantaneous – even almost 2,000 feet underground at the bottom of the mine. Workers could bring laptops and smartphones into the mine to stay connected to personnel and software on the surface.
With an RFID chip on every vehicle, machine, and person, managers can see the location of everyone and everything in the mine. This helps prevent accidents and breakdowns, and streamlines operations in real-time.
There are also environmental and cost-saving benefits. Using location data, an automated ventilation system can respond and minimize energy consumption.
Fans turn on and off as miners enter or leave an area. In addition, fan speeds adjust when machines or vehicles are running nearby to ensure that emissions are properly vented. This could drastically reduce a mine’s energy requirements.
Changing the Nature of Work: Remote Working
These smart mining solutions are reducing the risks miners face and creating new opportunities for a tech-savvy generation.
Remote mine locations that revolve around shift work can place stress on workers and their families. With a connected infrastructure, mine employees and managers can monitor operations at a distant office.
There will always be a need for workers on site, but connected technology can create some town-based career opportunities and help stabilize families.
A Sustainable Future for Mining
This is just the beginning.
Over time, data from sensor technology and cloud software, will reveal insights that could help develop sustainable mining operations.
By minimizing their negative impacts, mining companies will be able to responsibly deliver the materials the modern world needs.
20 Common Metal Alloys and What They’re Made Of
You can’t find stainless steel, brass, sterling silver, or white gold on the periodic table. Learn about 20 common metal alloys, and what they are made from.
Every day, you’re likely to encounter metals that cannot be found anywhere on the periodic table.
You may play a brass instrument while wearing a white gold necklace – or maybe you cook with a cast iron skillet and store your leftovers in a stainless steel refrigerator.
It’s likely that you know these common metal alloys by name, and you can probably even imagine what they look and feel like. But do you know what base metals these alloys are made of, exactly?
Common Metal Alloys
Today’s infographic comes to us from Alan’s Factory Outlet, and it breaks down metal and non-metal components that go into popular metal alloys.
In total, 20 alloys are highlighted, and they range from household names (i.e. bronze, sterling silver) to lesser-known metals that are crucial for industrial purposes (i.e. solder, gunmetal, magnox).
Humans make metal alloys for various reasons.
Some alloys have long-standing historical significance. For example, electrum is a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver (with trace amounts of copper) that was used to make the very first metal coins in ancient history.
However, most of the common metal alloys on the above list are actually human inventions that are used to achieve practical purposes. Some were innovated by brilliant metallurgists, while others were discovered by fluke, but they’ve all had an ongoing impact on our species over time.
Alloys with an Impact
The Bronze Age (3,000 BC – 1,200 BC) is an important historical period that is rightfully named after one game-changing development: the ability to use bronze. This alloy, made from copper and tin, was extremely useful to our ancestors because it is much stronger and harder than its component metals.
Steel is another great example of an alloy that has changed the world. It is one of the most important and widely-used metals today. Without steel, modern civilization (skyscrapers, bridges, etc.) simply wouldn’t be possible.
While nobody knows exactly who invented steel, the alloy has a widely-known cousin that was likely invented in somewhat accidental circumstances.
In 1912, English metallurgist Harry Brearley had been tasked with finding a more erosion-resistant steel for a small arms manufacturer, trying many variations of alloys with none seeming to be suitable. However, in his scrap metal heap – where almost all of the metals he tried were rusting – there was one gun barrel that remained astonishingly untouched.
The metal alloy – now known to the world as stainless steel – was a step forward in creating a corrosion-resistant steel that is now used in many applications ranging from medical uses to heavy industry.
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