China’s Largest Gold Mine is Under Water

Late last year, Ruihai Mining Ltd in China announced its discovery of an ore deposit bearing an estimated 470-1,500 tons of gold. It sounds like average news for the world’s largest producer of gold, especially since the deposit is located near the city of Laizhou, where the relative abundance of gold ore accounts for roughly 15% of China’s gold production. The interesting part is that the site is in the ocean near Sanshan Island, 2km below sea level – making it China’s first potential underwater gold mine.
   
The road to the discovery was nothing short of difficult. After three years prospecting the area, Ruihai utilized 67 drilling platforms and more than 1,000 geological personnel to explore a 120 kilometer area and eventually pinpoint the motherlode. If Papua New Guinea’s partnership with Nautilus Minerals is able to prove the viability of subsea mining robots, Ruihai may be able to adopt the technology to make recovery of the ore easier than finding it.

Prospecting the oceans may soon become a standard in the mining industry as rich mineral deposits are found below the seafloor. The International Seabed Authority, which operates under a United Nations convention to regulate the use of the sea floor in international waters, has granted 26 permits to date to explore an area set aside for seabed mining beneath the central Pacific ocean. About 18 of those permits were issued in the last 3-4 years, indicating a growing trend. China tends to move quickly in this field, and the technology of Nautilus Minerals looks promising, so we may have a greater understanding of undersea mining in the very near future. 


Canada's New Bullion Ventures into the Final Frontier

Many people buy bullion coins because they are a secure and certified way to invest in precious metals. For others, bullion coins are more like collectable memorabilia. The latest collection of coins from the Royal Canadian Mint definitely appeals to the latter crowd.
   
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic TV show Star Trek, Canadian-born actor William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) and the mint’s CEO and president Sandra Hanington unveiled a new series of commemorative bullion coins. It’s an impressively-sized collection – but predictably, many of the coins have already sold out. Trekkies can choose from coins such as:

While the Royal Canadian Mint has produced a plethora of commemorative and collectible coins over the years, they are best known for the Maple Leaf – a fine bullion coin we see in our shop from time to time. First minted in 1979, the Maple Leaf comes in gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and bi-metallic (silver and gold) varieties. Maple Leaf coins are also among the purest in the world, with some special editions reaching a gold purity level of .99999 millesimal fineness. Perhaps for Star Trek’s 100th anniversary, the mint will stamp new coins using precious metals collected from space!


Gold Used to Create Batteries that Last 400 Times Longer

Whenever the latest gadget comes out, battery performance is often a selling point. With the market demand for smaller and lighter batteries that charge faster and last longer - efficient battery engineering is in high demand. Most batteries today draw their power from liquid lithium. Unfortunately, finding something that matches it in conductivity, electrode potential, and flexibility for both full and partial charging/discharging has been challenging. But, researchers from the University of California, Irvine have stumbled upon a way to create batteries with astounding capabilities.
   
Nanowires have been a prime candidate for taking lithium batteries to the next level. Not only are they are highly conductive, but since they are as thin as a single bacterium, they can be woven into custom-size surface areas for electron transfer. But scientists have struggled to overcome the physical limitations of nanowires. After repeated charging and discharging, the wires corrode, breakdown, and fail.

The UC Irvine researchers were experimenting with gold nanowires to see if a coating of magnesium dioxide would improve their lifetime. On a lark, the study’s leader Mya Le Thai added an additional coating of Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA, aka Plexiglas) before cycling it – charging and discharging it over and over to see how long it could last. While the other batteries failed after 5,000-7,000 cycles, Thai’s batteries continued on well past 200,000 cycles.

According to their research, the team was unable to figure out exactly why the PMMA drastically improves the performance of the battery. Their working hypothesis is that the PMMA softens the magnesium oxide and makes it more resistant to fracturing after repeated charging.

Even though these batteries use extremely small amounts of gold, manufacturing them on a scale to meet consumer demand would be prohibitively expensive. In addition to improving the design and understanding why the batteries work the way they do, the lab at UC Irvine also plans to test other conductive metals that are cheaper than gold, such as silver or nickel.