Over the years, the well-respected AESF/NASF contributor Jack Dini has written a series of fascinating columns for electroplating and surface treatment, titled “Fact or Fiction?”. In 2020, Jack’s works will return from time to time.
The earth is the first place most people think to find gold. The mining industry digs deep holes in the earth to extract gold and is the main source of this precious material.
However, gold can be found in many other places: recycling, sewage sludge, oceans and seabeds, volcanoes, and even some people think it can be found in urine. These themes are the subject of this report.
Recyclable gold or at least usable traces of gold can be found in many places: dental gold, old, faded and no longer worn jewelry, but most importantly defective technical equipment, industrial accessories, and electronic waste.
According to the World Gold Council, most recycled gold (about 90%) comes from jewelry. Gold can be recovered from old or unwanted jewelry. After the purity is determined, the jewelry will melt above 1,900°F and then poured into the gold bar according to the purity of the gold.
One challenge of using very small amounts of gold in very small devices is the loss of metal from society. Nearly 1 billion mobile phones are produced each year, most of which contain gold worth about 50 cents. They have an average lifespan of less than two years and are currently rarely recycled. Although the gold content in each device is small, its huge amount will be converted into a large amount of unrecovered gold. 1
The 40 scrap mobile phones provided almost as much gold as the gold mined from a ton of gold-bearing ore. One ton of old computer circuit boards produces more than 200 grams of precious metal. The recovery rate of gold in jewelry is as high as 90%, while the gold in electronic scrap is currently only about 15%. Most end-of-life equipment is shipped to Asia or Africa for rescue, and most of them are hidden there.
Scientists discovered gold in an unlikely place: the Swiss sewage and wastewater treatment plant. A study commissioned by the Swiss Federal Environment Office involved a survey of 64 sewage treatment plants across the country. It is estimated that 95 pounds of gold (worth approximately US$2 million) and more than 6,500 pounds of silver (approximately US$1.8 million) are washed into Switzerland’s sewage system each year.
Researchers believe that tiny gold particles flow into the wastewater system from the country’s famous watchmaking and gold refineries. The researchers wrote: “The concentration of gold in sewage sludge is high enough, so it has potential recovery value.”
Scientists at Arizona State University in Tempe quantified the different metals in sewage sludge and estimated their value. The result: a city with a million people produces up to 13 million dollars worth of metals in the sludge each year, including 2.6 million dollars in gold and silver.
A city in Japan has tried to extract gold from its sludge. In Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture, a processing plant close to a large number of precision equipment manufacturers has reportedly collected nearly 2 kilograms of gold per metric ton of ash from burning sludge. This is much higher than the gold content of Japan’s Lingjin Mine, one of the world’s top gold mines, which contains 20-40 grams of precious metals per ton of ore.
The US National Oceanic Administration reports that our oceans contain approximately 20 million pounds of gold suspended in normal sea water. The concentration is about 10 parts per trillion; so, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts it, “every liter of seawater contains, on average, about 1 part per billion of gram of gold.” There are also gold deposits on the seafloor.
Many people are attracted by the idea of asking for a partial bounty. Here are two examples: one is a liar and the other is a famous chemist.
Prescott Ford Jernegan is a Baptist pastor who preached in different states in the 1880s and early 90s. During this time, he established important connections, which will be very useful for him to become a liar in the future. He showed his new discovery, a special zinc-lined bucket, which he called a “gold storage vessel”, capable of extracting gold particles from seawater. After adding some mercury to the bucket, put it down from the dock and turn on the battery. As it stays underwater overnight, gold particles floating in the ocean will adhere to the mercury in the barrel. Investors who were impressed by what they saw and heard bought, thus starting one of the biggest gold scams in history.
Jenigan’s accomplice Charles Fisher is an excellent diver. He will dump the mercury at night and replace it with mercury-infused gold. After seeing that the gold was real, investors provided start-up capital, and the Electrolytic Sea Salt Company was born. At the peak of their operations, the company had more than 100 employees and more than 200 gold depositories.
The third accomplice, William Ferran, asked for money to remain silent, and threatened to expose Jenigan and Fisher. After the two refused, Ferran fulfilled his threat and published a report in the “New York Herald” exposing that the operation was a scam, and all this was messed up.
Fisher never heard from again. Jernegan fled to Europe and eventually returned $85,000 to the investors he scammed. Investors received a total of 36 cents in return. By today’s standards, these scammers have defrauded investors of nearly $27 million.
Fritz Haber is the co-inventor of the Haber-Bosch process, which is arguably the most important development of the 20th century. This process is the synthesis of ammonia from the nitrogen and hydrogen industries, and is said to be more important to the modern world than nuclear energy, space flight or television. Without Haber-Bosch’s ammonia synthesis process, only about 60% of the world’s population could feed themselves.
Haber, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918, believed that it was possible to extract enough gold from the ocean to repay the 20 billion mark punitive damages imposed on Germany by the Allies after the First World War. Unfortunately, he estimated that the concentration in seawater reached 10 ppb, which was 1,000 times higher than the actual concentration, and his plan failed. Another example is those who try to recover gold from the ocean but fail to do so economically.
The vents on the sea floor support the undulating colonies of tube worms, giant clams, eyeless shrimps and hairball-sized snails, and are also pipelines for obtaining fresh and valuable metals from the inside of the earth. As the water cools, substances and minerals from the vents precipitate out, leaving behind the concentration of metals—gold, copper, nickel, and silver, as well as the more esoteric minerals used in electronic products—making the richest mines on the dry land. It looks meager.
This gave birth to a new industry-deep sea mining. Although deep-sea mining has not started anywhere in the world, 16 international mining companies have signed contracts to explore minerals in the East Pacific Seabed, and other companies have signed contracts to explore nodules in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific.
Water rich in gold and other metals is heated by magma and forms deposits in the volcano. In this way, gold ore is formed in the rocks of active volcanoes. An example: Earth scientists discovered gold and silver-rich mother veins in reservoirs within a series of volcanoes in New Zealand. The concentration of gold in the water exceeds 20 parts per billion, and the concentration of silver reaches 2,000 parts per billion or more. Researchers estimate that using one of the reservoirs can produce up to 2.71 million U.S. dollars in gold and 3.6 million U.S. dollars in silver each year.
The erupting volcano Erebus in Antarctica spews gold dust, which is unique among volcanoes.
Perhaps there is nothing more representative of the strange and often accidental nature of chemical science in its early days than the discovery of the German Henningbrand in 1675. Brand believes that gold can be distilled from human urine in some way. The similarity of colors seems to be a factor in his conclusion. He collected fifty barrels of human urine and kept it in his cellar for several months. Through various processes, he first turned the urine into a toxic paste, and then into a translucent waxy substance. Of course, none of this produced gold, but something strange and interesting did happen. After some time, the substance began to emit light. Moreover, when exposed to air, it often burns spontaneously.
Brand discovered a new element, phosphorus, which was the first element discovered in hundreds of years. Facts have proved that everyone excretes at least 1.5 grams of phosphorus in urine every day.
In the end, Brand sold the secret of how he made this material to the alchemist Robert Boyle, who not only improved the method of producing phosphorus, but also realized that this element could make fires on demand. Boyle first put the phosphorus on the tip of the wooden plywood. Today, we call them competitions.
Most importantly, Boyle recorded his methods and shared them with his colleagues. He even wrote them in the book “The Doubtful Chemist”, which today is considered by many scholars to be the first real chemistry book. Through his actions, Boyle introduced a revolutionary idea into the secret underground world of alchemy, that ideas should be shared publicly.
N. Solten, “Gold Recycling-An Environmentally Friendly Alternative”, gold.info, December 2020.
Alanna Petroff, “Scientists found $2 million worth of gold in Swiss sewage”, money.cnn.com, October 11, 2017.
Warren Cornwall, “Sewage sludge may contain millions of dollars worth of gold”, news.sciencemag.org, January 16, 2015.
Brooke Jarvis, “The deepest dig”, Best Science and Nature Writing in America (2015); p. 124.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts, “Deep Sea Mining: Environmental Solutions or Impending Disasters?” news.mongabay.com, June 16, 2020.
Ross Pomeroy, “How urine lays the foundation for chemistry”, realclearscience.com, December 2, 2014.
Jack Dini received a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from Cleveland State University and began his career at Cleveland Supply Company (now Pavco) in the 1950s. He worked for several years in the research center of the Republic Steel Company and the Battelle Columbus Laboratory. In 1962, he joined Sandia Laboratories in Livermore, California, where he participated in an electrodeposition project for 18 years before moving to Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) in 1980. He is the head of the manufacturing process department. Responsibilities include the activities of the five groups: electroplating and metal finishing, vacuum technology, metal manufacturing, plastics and optics.
Mr. Dini is a prolific scientist. He is the author or co-author of approximately 180 technical papers. Although many researchers are content to focus on one or two fields, he has made significant contributions to six multidisciplinary areas in the field of surface treatment. He is the author of two books, Electrodeposition-Material Science of Coatings and Substrates and Challenging Environmental Myths: Wrestling Zeus. Fortunately for the scientific community, he carefully recorded his work and shared it with others around the world. It includes plating rare metals, alloy plating, printed circuits, chemical milling, electrical connection, and collecting electrochemical/performance data.
For decades, people have been actively looking for alternatives to hard chromium. In the final report of the AESF Foundation’s first research project since the establishment of NASF, the authors presented the results of their extensive research on new electroplating processes.
Here are the latest developments based on porous anodic aluminum oxide (PAA) and metal nanowire deposits, which may become a competitive alternative to paints and organic coatings. By controlling the conditions of anodization and metal electrodeposition, coatings of various colors can be produced, including gray, black, blue, purple and green.
This article is a peer-reviewed and edited version of the NASF SUR/FIN 2012 presentation in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 13, 2012.
Post time: Aug-07-2021