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There’s Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

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There's Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

Image courtesy of: Wired

There’s Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

See the full version of the infographic.

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.

Planetary Resources has identified eight of these as potential targets and has listed them publicly, while Deep Space Industries has claimed to have “half a dozen very, very attractive targets”.

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.

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Economy

What is a Commodity Super Cycle?

The prices of energy, agriculture, livestock and metals tell the story of human development. Learn about the commodity super cycle in this infographic.

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Visualizing the Commodity Super Cycle

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world has seen its population and the need for natural resources boom.

As more people and wealth translate into the demand for global goods, the prices of commodities—such as energy, agriculture, livestock, and metals—have often followed in sync.

This cycle, which tends to coincide with extended periods of industrialization and modernization, helps in telling a story of human development.

Why are Commodity Prices Cyclical?

Commodity prices go through extended periods during which prices are well above or below their long-term price trend. There are two types of swings in commodity prices: upswings and downswings.

Many economists believe that the upswing phase in super cycles results from a lag between unexpected, persistent, and positive trends to support commodity demand with slow-moving supply, such as the building of a new mine or planting a new crop. Eventually, as adequate supply becomes available and demand growth slows, the cycle enters a downswing phase.

While individual commodity groups have their own price patterns, when charted together they form extended periods of price trends known as “Commodity Super Cycles” where there is a recognizable pattern across major commodity groups.

How can a Commodity Super Cycle be Identified?

Commodity super cycles are different from immediate supply disruptions; high or low prices persist over time.

In our above chart, we used data from the Bank of Canada, who leveraged a statistical technique called an asymmetric band pass filter. This is a calculation that can identify the patterns or frequencies of events in sets of data.

Economists at the Bank of Canada employed this technique using their Commodity Price Index (BCPI) to search for evidence of super cycles. This is an index of the spot or transaction prices in U.S. dollars of 26 commodities produced in Canada and sold to world markets.

  • Energy: Coal, Oil, Natural Gas
  • Metals and Minerals: Gold, Silver, Nickel, Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, Potash, Lead, Iron
  • Forestry: Pulp, Lumber, Newsprint
  • Agriculture: Potatoes, Cattle, Hogs, Wheat, Barley, Canola, Corn
  • Fisheries: Finfish, Shellfish

Using the band pass filter and the BCPI data, the chart indicates that there are four distinct commodity price super cycles since 1899.

  • 1899-1932:
    The first cycle coincides with the industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century.
  • 1933-1961:
    The second began with the onset of global rearmament before the Second World War in the 1930s.
  • 1962-1995:
    The third began with the reindustrialization of Europe and Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
  • 1996 – Present:
    The fourth began in the mid to late 1990s with the rapid industrialization of China

What Causes Commodity Cycles?

The rapid industrialization and growth of a nation or region are the main drivers of these commodity super cycles.

From the rapid industrialization of America emerging as a world power at the beginning of the 20th century, to the ascent of China at the beginning of the 21st century, these historical periods of growth and industrialization drive new demand for commodities.

Because there is often a lag in supply coming online, prices have nowhere to go but above long-term trend lines. Then, prices cannot subside until supply is overshot, or growth slows down.

Is This the Beginning of a New Super Cycle?

The evidence suggests that human industrialization drives commodity prices into cycles. However, past growth was asymmetric around the world with different countries taking the lion’s share of commodities at different times.

With more and more parts of the world experiencing growth simultaneously, demand for commodities is not isolated to a few nations.

Confined to Earth, we could possibly be entering an era where commodities could perpetually be scarce and valuable, breaking the cycles and giving power to nations with the greatest access to resources.

Each commodity has its own story, but together, they show the arc of human development.

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Mining

More Than a Precious Metal: How Platinum Improves Our World

Platinum is more than just a precious metal. Its unique properties make it a critical material in manufacturing, healthcare, and green technologies.

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How Platinum Improves Our World

Within the hierarchy of precious metals, there is only one metal that could arguably stand above gold, and that is platinum.

This is due in large part to the metal’s rarity throughout history. Its earliest known use was on the Casket of Thebes in Ancient Egypt. South American Indigenous populations also used platinum for jewelry.

But platinum’s value goes beyond being a precious metal—its specific properties have made it indispensable to the modern economy, improving both the health and the wealth of the world.

Platinum’s Industrial Applications

Today’s infographic comes to us from the World Platinum Investment Council and outlines specifically how specific platinum’s properties are used in the modern economy.

There are four primary uses of platinum aside from investment demand.

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Healthcare
  3. Environmental
  4. Renewable Power

Let’s look into all of these cases a little deeper.

1. Manufacturing

Platinum’s versatility in manufacturing has quadrupled its demand since 1980. Its catalytic properties are critical to the production of fertilizers, and more specifically, platinum’s efficiency in converting ammonia to nitric acid paved the way for large-scale fertilizer production.

Around 90% of the nitrogen produced using platinum catalysts is used to make 190 million tonnes of fertilizers each year.

2. Healthcare

Platinum is a biologically compatible metal because it is both non-toxic and stable. It does not react negatively with or affect body tissues, which makes it an ideal material for medical tools. Platinum’s use in medicine dates back to 1874 for its use in arthroscopic tools. Its stability also makes it ideal for pacemakers and hearing assist devices today.

While non-threatening to healthy cells, platinum compounds known as cisplatin can damage cancer cells and treat testicular, ovarian, lung, bladder, and other cancers. Given these crucial applications, the World Health Organization has put cisplatin on its List of Essential Medicines.

3. Environmental

Platinum is a critical material in the fight for cleaner air and in the construction of energy-efficient fiberglass. It is used in catalytic converters in exhaust systems of gas-powered vehicles, reducing the emission of harmful pollutants. In addition, platinum is used in the manufacturing process of high-end glass that improves the heating and cooling efficiency of homes and offices.

4. Renewable Power

Platinum’s catalytic properties make it critical to cleaning up air pollution, producing renewable hydrogen, and unleashing its power in fuel cells. Electrolysis, which can turn water into hydrogen and oxygen, works best when passing an electric current through platinum electrodes.

Fuel cells are set to power a new generation of emission-free vehicles, and platinum membranes are used inside of them as well.

More Than Precious

More than a precious metal, platinum has many applications that make it a critical material for the modern economy in years to come.

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