18 April 2007

Substituting Less Expensive Metals For More: Zinc

The economics of materials dictates that if a manufacturer can use a less expensive material in place of one more expensive, he will do so. Zinc is an inexpensive metal that can be substituted for more expensive metals like copper. For example, modern US pennies have been 97.5% zinc and only 2.5% copper for 25 years.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy Ames (Iowa) Laboratory are discovering many more uses for Zinc, that in the long run will have significant economic impact.
Drs. Paul Canfield and Sergey Bud'ko and their Iowa State University Department of Physics and Astronomy graduate student, Shuang Jia, have discovered a new family of zinc compounds that can be tuned, or manipulated, to take on some of the physical properties and behavior of other materials, ranging from plain old copper to more exotic elements like palladium, to even more complex electronic and magnetic compounds that are on, as Canfield said, "the hairy edge" of becoming magnetic (or even superconducting).

Their versatility makes the new zinc compounds ideal for basic research efforts to observe and learn more about the origins of phenomena such as magnetism. Basic research is the building block. Once scientists understand how these materials work, products and/or processes can follow.

In addition, zinc is very cheap. In 1982, the U.S.Mint switched the composition of the penny to 97.5 percent zinc and only 2.5 percent copper. In a similar manner, this class of compounds is over 85 percent zinc. If technological applications can be found, these compounds will literally only cost pennies to make.

Many people believe that the various "peaks:" "peak oil", "peak uranium", "peak energy", "peak materials", are recent phenomena. Better informed persons understand that anticipated exhaustion of resources is as old as technology itself. Humans passed "peak whale oil" over a century ago, and still somehow have muddled through to
the 21st century. Humans tend to substitute materials for function. Everything is driven by practical economics.

Most of the experimentation over the centuries and millenia has taken place behind closed doors for reasons of industrial or military secrecy. But in the modern internet world, with a public's unquenchable thirst for news and knowledge, even preliminary findings and goals of basic science are presented to the general public.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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