Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold?



Gold Mining

The best place to mine for gold isn't rock, but rather a pile of old mobile phones. An average gold mine produces 5g of gold per tonne of rock, whereas mobile phones contain 150g or more per tonne. A tonne of mobiles also contains 100kg of copper and 3kg of silver, as well as other valuable metals. This has lead to a new concept of 'urban mining' that began in Japan, a country short on natural minerals. In 2008 a Japanese company called Dowa Eco-System was melting 200-300kgs of gold into bars every month last year. Even sewage can be mined; a sewage treatment facility in central Japan has discovered that the sewage it processes carries a gold density higher than that of most profitable mines in the country; it probably comes from industrial facilities nearby.
1.5 million phone handsets are thrown away each year in the UK. Most recycled phones go to China, many of them to the coastal town of Guiyu, the largest electronic waste site on earth. There are an estimated 150,000 e-waste workers in Guiyu, earning an average of $1.50 per day each. 80% of local children suffer from lead poisoning.
As well as getting gold out of your phone, cars emit platinum. All new cars are fitted with catalytic converters, and these emit platinum dust in exhaust fumes. The dust on busy roads in the UK is already 100 times richer in platinum than normal background levels, and if this figure keeps on rising it may become economic to sweep the roads and refine the dust (using a safe strain of E. coli bacteria to do the work). Printer ink cartridges can also be mined, for silver and palladium; over two million printer cartridges are thrown away every year. 

A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet covering nearly 100 square feet, or drawn out into 50 miles of gold wire.

SAMUEL BUTLER (1835-1902)

Though wisdom cannot be gotten with gold, still less can it be gotten without it.

Up until 1850 scarcely 10,000 tons of gold had been mined in all human history.

Mining the Seas

There is also plenty of gold in the world's oceans. Even at the conservative estimates of 10 parts per trillion of gold in seawater, the world's oceans would contain about 25 billion ounces of gold – eight times as much as humankind has mined over the course of history. Unfortunately, no profitable way of extracting it has been discovered – 10 parts per trillion is the equivalent of half a drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
In 1897, an English conman called Charles Fisher showed his 'Gold Accumulator' machine to New Englanders. He claimed that if you put the machine into water for 24 hours and, he claimed, it would come up covered in gold flakes. Fisher was an experienced deep-sea-diver and simply submerged himself a few hundred yards from the machine, swam underwater and swapped the normal machine for a gold-covered copy.
As well as gold in the water, there are plenty of wrecks which contain lots of gold. In the 1930s, as the price of gold rose sharply, it became worthwhile to recover cargoes from sunken steamships which had gone down years before while transporting gold from the goldfields of Australia and California. Charlie Courtney was the USA’s only fully qualified locksmith-diver. He made a very good living picking locks on the seabed and recovering millions of dollars worth of gold for the salvage companies which employed him.
The best place in the UK to do a bit of traditional gold mining is a seam, currently unexploited, which is under Beinn Chùirn, 50 miles north of Glasgow. There are reserves there of at least 4.5 tonnes of gold, worth tens of millions of pounds.

JAMES GRAINGER (c. 1721-66)

What is fame? An empty bubble;
Gold? A transient, shining trouble.

40% of all the gold ever mined comes from Witwatersrand, in South Africa.

In China, 'gold farming' is also a term for playing online computer games for a living.

Gold record discs only have about 0.03g of gold on them, worth approximately 67p.

Lead into Gold

In 1450, the alchemist Bernard of Treves came up with the following alchemical recipe to transmute base metals into gold: take 2,000 egg yolks, and mix them with equal parts of oil and vitriol, burned over a slow fire for two weeks. Sadly, all it did was poison his pigs. He wasn't completely out there by past standards, though: King Charles II and Isaac Newton both conducted alchemical experiments.

Lead can be turned into gold. The nucleus of a lead atom has 82 protons. The nucleus of a gold atom has 79 protons. All you have to do is eliminate three lead protons. Unfortunately, this can only be done in a nuclear reactor, as a result of which any gold created is so radioactive that it is worthless. 

Whale Gold

'Floating Gold', also known as 'Whale’s Pearl' or 'Sea Gold', is a fatty substance that sperm whales secrete from their intestines, properly known as ambergris. It is made up of the indigestible parts from a sperm whale's diet, mainly beaks of giant squid.

It floats to the ocean’s surface where, over time, it oxidises and the water in it evaporates. Eventually it breaks into smaller chunks, becomes grey and waxy and starts to smell nice, being likened to pine or mulch or even tobacco. This process takes roughly 10 years.

Scientists aren’t sure which end of the whale it comes out of, but ambergris is used as an ingredient of perfume and is worth more than £10 a gram.

In March 2008, in North Wales, two friends found two chunks said to be worth up to £500,000 between them.

Gold has its own E number. E175 is officially suitable for consumption by vegetarians, vegans and members of all religious groups.

Digging for Gold

Gold is so dense that all the 158,000 tons mined throughout history could be contained in a cube measuring less than 21 metres along each side. In the early sixteenth century, the sides of the cube would have been about 8 metres long.
In South African gold mines, the typical rate of return is 5g of gold per ton of dirt shifted; in other words, a ratio of 1:200,000. In some mines, you can’t go to the bottom of the shaft in one lift. With such deep mineshafts, the lift cable would snap under its own weight even if there were no lift attached at the bottom. 

The International Space Station has cost more than 30 times its own weight in gold.

HERACLITUS (c. 535 bc-475 bc)

Gold miners dig much and find little.

Three and a half Olympic swimming pools could hold all the gold ever mined in the world.

MAHATMA GANDHI (1869-1948)

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.