How Can You Get Gold From Seawater?

Published: 11th March 2011
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Incredible? No - it actually is possible. The amount of gold and precious metals in sea water is really incredible. Estimates say that mankind has mined more than 165,000 tons of gold since mining first began about 6,000 years ago. By comparison, the concentration of gold in seawater is, according to scientific estimates, that the oceans contain somewhere in the region of nearly a million tons, and that this quantity is growing constantly as more gold leaches out from the earth's mantle.

There are several ways in which this gold could be extracted, and a few companies have trials underway. Distillation would be one method - basically boiling seawater and refining the residue. This is uneconomic as the energy required to boil off the water is considerable, though it is potentially a product of desalination plants with added stages. Besides gold, practically all naturally occurring elements are dissolved in sea water, to some degree.

There is now a potentially economic solution - literally. In areas of the sea floor where the earth's plates - continental masses - are diverging (you may have heard of the East Pacific Rise and continental drift for example), there are fissures in the sea bottom into which sea water flows. It is heated in the earth's mantle (these mid oceanic rises are made of of hot soft rock) and minerals dissolve in it. This mineral-loaded water emerges through fumaroles (also known as smokers), and the minerals are deposited, which build chimney-shaped structures.

Scientists have found over 300 new species surviving in this apparently inhospitable environment, where temperatures can reach over 200 degrees centigrade or more and water pressure is as much as 1.5 tons per square inch. These species range from bacteria to limpets, shrimp and giant tube worms.

Biologists believe that bacteria (called extremophiles) play an important role in the production of the mineral deposits which build the chimneys - sulphur-oxidizing bacteria genera such as Thiothrix or Thiovulum may be involved in this process.

Some observers have proposed that it may be possible to genetically engineer these bacteria to extract gold and other precious or strategic elements and compounds from seawater. Bacteria have already been engineered to devour crude oil, so why not gold?

It will be the economics that drive this of course. Some mining companies have already been developing bacteria to help with the further refining of low content gold ore waste left over after traditional gold extraction operations (bio-oxidation).

Recent difficulties in the world economy, and even talk of a return to the gold standard, may result in a continuing climb in gold spot prices (they have been increasing steadily for many years) - probably for at least 10 years - and this will very probably tip the economic scales of gold extraction and refining towards more marginal methods.


Find out more about extracting gold from seawater . Gold mining in Alaska, bio refining, gold price manipulation and gold speculation, French Foreign Legion - it's all there at the Gate of Tears

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