Extracting Gold from the Sea

    In the first part of the twentieth century, chemists desired they could come up with a method to recover pure gold from great amounts of seawater in order to make their big find. A German chemist by the name of Fritz Haber, who was the well known co-inventor of the Haber-Bosch process, dedicated a part of his career trying to extract gold from the sea to pay in order to pay for Germany’s after World War I debt.

    It is well known that a common cubic mile of seawater has, approximately, one to two parts per million of gold. The difficulty in this matter is in getting the gold separated from the water. A cubic mile of seawater is pretty much an indescribable amount for most of us to even comprehend. It would take many years for us to be able to process it, taking into account the capacities we currently have in our technology. From the viewpoint of chemists at the beginning of the twentieth century, it must have looked like an even bigger amount. Nonetheless, the appeal and desire for gold is something very strong, and all the way through history countless number of people have spent life times attempting to get it and would go to any distance to obtain it whether through stealing it, transmuting it from lead, or extracting it from seawater.

    As is pretty obvious, these chemists were not able to succeed in their quest. Being able to successfully extract the gold from the sea would entail a huge number of enormous centrifuges and the cost involved in all this would be so tremendous that the gold extracted would not even be able to pay for the amount that was spent on the extraction.

    It just so happens to be that the only mineral that is able to be extracted from the ocean advantageously is salt. A cubic mile of seawater’s worth of salt is a sufficient amount to provide for the whole world for over a year which is around 128 million tons. Salt is extracted from the ocean by gathering it from areas where seawater evaporates and this leaves the salt deposits behind. The ancient Chinese did this same thing close to three thousand years ago. These days, we get most of our salt from brine wells and salt domes, which were created a great number of years ago when ancient seas evaporated.

    The only metal that has ever been effectively isolated in noteworthy amounts from seawater is manganese. In certain places of the world, the ocean bottom is covered in many trillions of manganese nodules, the dust of which is broken up in the sea water. In actual fact, as much as one thousandth of seawater, by weight, consists of manganese.

    There is such a large quantity of manganese in the ocean that it is the main source for a lot of big sized countries, such as the United States. The extraction process is not complicated and yes, while it is true that it cannot be compared to gold, it is certainly very useful.