The Malthusians have always been wrong, but they still love their “scare stories”. The Club Of Rome also loves to push the ‘running out’ scare, and has for at least 40 years that I know of (they facilitated “The Limits To Growth” by Meadows et. al. that was an exponential prediction of population growth and resource consumption compared with a linear or flat supply of “resources”. They also started the whole “it wasn’t a prediction it was a projection” stupid quibble. They treated it as a prediction, so it’s a prediction…)
The general notion was that we simply MUST run out of ‘scarce’ resources, and soon. The same organizations are also behind the Global Warming push with the same Malthusian mindset and the same goals / solutions. Largely enforced population control and things like Agenda 21 that wants to herd folks into high rise cities and forbid use of natural resources (since we will otherwise ‘use them up’).
We never do “use up” all the resources, simply because they never leave the planet. What is a resource changes over time, and we create new resources out of non-resources by way of our creativity. (Ever notice the scarcity of flint for arrow points? No? Gee… How about the shortage of whale Oil? Replaced by Jojoba oil that we grow in plantations… It’s a long list…) Resource substitution (think using aluminum for power lines instead of copper, or using glass for phone calls instead of copper), creating new resources, and finding new ways to use old resources, along with finding new ways to extract dilute resources / ores. All these things prevent “running out”…
I’ve been involved with this since about 1973 or so when I had an Econ class devoted to the subject. Largely it was an exploration of the book (‘Limits’) and the things wrong with it. So I’m not new to this. Also realize that Malthus was one of the very first Economists, and as an Econ major I had to study that history. (And how it has failed…) So this topic is right smack dab in my major area.
I’ve made some other postings (links at the bottom) that generally show how we are not subject to resource constraints. I won’t rehash them here. This posting, and others that are tagged with “unlimiting resources”, will look at particular resources or new technologies that remove limits on resources, or expand what is a resource. In this particular case, Basalt.
Basalt – a very common rock
You may know basalt as the rock making up huge expanses of India, Russia, ocean floors, Hawaii, and darned near any other place with flood lavas in their history. It’s a very common type of rock.
Basalt is usually grey to black in colour, but rapidly weathers to brown or rust-red due to oxidation of its mafic (iron-rich) minerals into rust. Although usually characterized as “dark”, basaltic rocks exhibit a wide range of shading due to regional geochemical processes.
First off, notice the word “rust”? Yup. You can get iron out of it. Yes, we mostly use other kinds of minerals (banded iron deposits) for iron ore. Nothing prevents using basalt if we ever needed to do that. It can be crushed, rusted, and the iron extracted. It’s just a little cheaper to use the other stuff. But simply put: the existence of a lot of iron in basalts, that make up much of the land of the planet and sea floor, mean we never run out of iron. Ever. There is way more iron on this planet than we could ever use.
But it gets better…
Relative to most common igneous rocks, basalt compositions are rich in MgO and CaO and low in SiO2 and the alkali oxides, i.e., Na2O + K2O, consistent with the TAS classification.
Basalt generally has a composition of 45–55 wt% SiO2, 2–6 wt% total alkalis, 0.5–2.0 wt% TiO2, 5–14 wt% FeO and 14 wt% or more Al2O3. Contents of CaO are commonly near 10 wt%, those of MgO commonly in the range 5 to 12 wt%.
High alumina basalts have aluminium contents of 17–19 wt% Al2O3; boninites have magnesium contents of up to 15% MgO. Rare feldspathoid-rich mafic rocks, akin to alkali basalts, may have Na2O + K2O contents of 12% or more.
The abundances of the Lanthanide or rare earth elements (REE) can be a useful diagnostic tool to help explain the history of mineral crystallisation as the melt cooled. In particular, the relative abundance of europium compared to the other REE is often markedly higher or lower, and called the europium anomaly. It arises because Eu2+ can substitute for Ca2+ in plagioclase feldspar, unlike any of the other Lanthanides, which tend to only form 3+ cations.
Notice that TiO2? Yup. Titanium. If we ever want to get more titanium than is in the easier to use resources, we can get it from basalt. Note, too, the Aluminum content. So lets say we started using iron from basalt; then the ‘tailings’ would be richer in Titanium and Aluminum. You can do darned near anything in the way of construction of machines with those three. Even electrical wiring, though copper works better so we prefer to use it.
But wait, there’s more!
Compared to other rocks found on Earth’s surface, basalts weather relatively fast. The typically iron-rich minerals oxidise rapidly in water and air, staining the rock a brown to red colour due to iron oxide (rust). Chemical weathering also releases readily water-soluble cations such as calcium, sodium and magnesium, which give basaltic areas a strong buffer capacity against acidification. Calcium released by basalts binds up CO2 from the atmosphere forming CaCO3 acting thus as a CO2 trap. To this it must be added that the eruption of basalt itself is often associated with the release of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere from volcanic gases.
Carbon sequestration in basalt has been studied as a means of removing carbon dioxide, produced by human industrialization, from the atmosphere. Underwater basalt deposits, scattered in seas around the globe, have the added benefit of the water serving as a barrier to the re-release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
So we can easily get sodium (think sodium vapor lamps and more) and calcium (as in cement) and magnesium (very useful for light weight alloys along with bone health…)
Basalt also has a “strong buffer capacity against acidification” so just how can the ocean ever “acidify” if it is underlain with basalt, and has massive inflows of fresh water that has rained down on basalt globally? (Simply put, it can’t… that’s part of why the ocean is alkaline in the first place).
Oh, and not that it matters, but it can scrub CO2 to make carbonate rocks. (Useful for cement and much more). There’s a natural cycle of CO2 being driven out of rocks in the making of magma, and then being scrubbed from the air back into those rocks as they age. That matters far more than anything people do.
The wiki lists limited things you can do with it (other than extract metals in a relative expensive way):
Basalt is used in construction (e.g. as building blocks or in the groundwork), making cobblestones (from columnar basalt) and in making statues. Heating and extruding basalt yields stone wool, said to be an excellent thermal insulator.
Yup. That’s it. As stone, as statuary, and rock wool. OK, nice to know we won’t run out of insulation.
But is there more that can be done with it? Yup.
Basalt fiber is a material made from extremely fine fibers of basalt, which is composed of the minerals plagioclase, pyroxene, and olivine. It is similar to carbon fiber and fiberglass, having better physicomechanical properties than fiberglass, but being significantly cheaper than carbon fiber. It is used as a fireproof textile in the aerospace and automotive industries and can also be used as a composite to produce products such as camera tripods.
Yes, you can use it for something very much like carbon fiber or fiberglass. At a nice ‘sweet spot’ of performance and cost in between those two. Fireproof too. Now once you are in the realm of “composites” you can make just about anything mechanical. Car bodies, valve covers, seats, posts, robots, beams, tables; heck, even violins and cellos (there are folks making them from carbon fiber at present) but I don’t know how good they would sound.
That isn’t just a hypothetical, it is being done commercially:
Basalt roving is bundle of continuous monodirectional complex basalt fibers. Roving possesses high natural strength, resistance to aggressive environments, long service life and excellent electric insulating properties. By its technical characteristics, Basalt roving surpasses S-glass and E-glass by many parameters, and is almost as good as carbon. Basalt roving is extremely heat resistant: long-use temperature range is -200 +680 С. Temporarily it can work in up to 900 С. Roving is extremely hard: 8-9 on the Moh scale (for comparison diamond=10). Its specific strength is 2,5 times higher than alloy steel’s and 1,3 times higher than E-glass.
At that link, there are a couple of other uses listed. One is a “Basalt Rebar” for high strength in harsh environments (like sea walls where iron tends to rust out fairly fast) and another is more of a chopped fiber instead of roving. See the link for pictures, but here is the text:
Segments of complex basalt fiber of a predetermined length depending on application. Unlike metal grid, provides reinforcement in all directions, has high adhesion characteristics and creates a uniform mass with concrete.
Provision of tree-dimensional reinforcement
Lightness, high mechanical strength, corrosion and chemical resistance to alkali and other aggressive environments
High friction, frost, heat, and moisture resistance
Ability to filtrate aggressive substances
Bearing bar with continuous spiral ribbing formed by means of winding by basalt strip oiled in highly durable polymeric compound.
Low specific weight: 4 times lighter than steel rebars;
Resistance to corrosion, rotting, and warping;
Unique chemical resistance to aggressive environments;
Good insulating characteristics
Higher operational reliability and long life of constructions and products;
So stronger concrete, and works well in harsh chemical environments. That rebar especially surprised me. An interesting idea. On the detail page for it, it says:
Basalt rebar is a bar with continuous spiral ribbing formed by means of winding by basalt strip oiled in highly durable polymeric compound.
Basalt rebar is a perspective composite material with a wide range of application in construction.
The rebars are resistant to corrosion and aggressive chemical compounds, is extremely light and durable.
Research results have shown that long life of constructions where basalt rebars were used considerably exceeds the life of similar constructions where other materials were used.
So they make a bar, then wind it with a strip bound with a polymer. Interesting approach. (And we can, of course, make all the polymers we want from plant sources, even garbage, so that’s not a limit either…)
In that link to the wiki on basalt fibers, there’s an interesting bit on the history:
The first attempts to produce basalt fiber were made in the United States in 1923. These were further developed after World War II by researchers in the USA, Europe and the Soviet Union especially for military and aerospace applications. Since declassification in 1995 basalt fibers have been used in a wider range of civilian applications.
So this was in the Military Secrets locker from about 1923 to 1995. One can only wonder how many other such “secrets” are in that locker waiting to be turned loose if we ever needed them in the rest of the economy… One also wonders what kind of “military and aerospace applications” kept it a secret for over 70 years and well into the modern age… I also think it would be really fun if Burt Rutan were to make an airplane out of it. Can you imagine a ‘rock airplane’?
Basalt mine-tailings as raw-materials for Portland clinker
Yes, both the rebar AND the cement… Now think what that does to all those Cement Engineering projects of the world ( C.E. or Civil Engineers are sometimes prone to joking C.E. stands for Cement Engineer…)
Think cement pipes, roads, buildings, damns, lamp posts, power poles, sidewalks, heck you can even make cement boats.
Large volumes of waste materials are produced by crushing of basaltic rocks for aggregate production, which is widely used in regions that lack rocks of granitic or gneissic composition. Two types of waste materials are produced (a) quarry fines, which are in part used as fine aggregates in concrete and (b) vesicular basalt, a porous variety of basalt that is useless as aggregate. This paper presents a procedure to use basaltic mine-tailings as raw-mixtures for Portland cement by adjusting the proportion of the other raw-materials (limestone, clay, iron ore). It is demonstrated that there is no need for additional fluxes to the basalt-bearing raw-mixtures, since the setting of the chemical parameters is enough to guarantee clinker formation. Two series of experimental clinkers were synthesized with raw-mixtures containing residues from a basalt quarry that produces aggregates for concrete. Experimental clinkers were produced from raw-mixtures with similar lime saturation factors, silica and alumina modules, which were set by adjusting the proportions of limestone, clay and iron ore to the varying proportions of basaltic materials added to them. One series of clinkers was made with basalt quarry fines, which are in part used as fine aggregate, but also accumulate as mine-tailings. Other series was made using vesicular (porous) basalt, a variety not resistant enough to be used as aggregate. It is demonstrated that the basaltic composition is fully compatible with clinker production, and no addition of fluxes or other additions is required. Composition of the raw-mixtures was checked by chemical analysis. Quantitative phase analysis of the clinkers was made by optical microscopy point counting, together with qualitative X-ray diffraction. All mixtures produced clinkers with acceptable proportions of major and minor crystalline phases, inside the range of common industrial Portland clinkers.
Keywords: mine-tailings, basalt, Portland clinker.
So think about all that for a minute. While we presently have cheaper sources for some of those uses (like iron ore) there’s a whole lot of things we can do with one of the most common rocks on the planet (and in the rest of the solar system too…) should we ever want to or need to. This one rock is a giant “un-limiter” on our resources. The only real resource is our creativity with what we have; and we have a great deal of creativity and a massive amount of basalt. Perhaps returning to a New Stone Age would not be so bad after all ;-)