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13px-More_small_left.png Fundamental resources



Atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere (a.k.a. air, sea and land)
Air, water and the twenty most abundant elements in the Earth's crust provide almost all the material needed to create the multitude of machines and goods that mankind requires: food, drugs, houses, vehicles, robots, industrial machinery, computers, consumer goods and so on.

Extracting these plentiful elements (and their compounds) to create useful material essentially involves energy (which is also plentiful) and the right processing methods. From a technical point of view there is practically no limit to the volume of material we could extract and make use of, if we so wished, even while minimally disrupting complex and fragile ecosystems. The reserves of raw materials needed to sustain civilisation are simply not going to run out, because the entire Earth's crust 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg is made up of them. However this is no excuse to be unnecessarily wasteful in our consumption. Advanced recycling will reduce the need to extract material from the ground and more efficient design will allow us to do more with less 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg.

The point is that any existing material scarcity actually has little to do with the reserves at our disposal.




Twenty most abundant elements in Earth's crust

Approx figures for the 20 most abundant elements in Earth's crust:

Earth's crust
Earth cutaway
Element  % mass
Oxygen 46.71
Silicon 27.69
Aluminum 8.07
Iron 5.05
Calcium 3.65
Sodium 2.75
Potassium 2.58
Magnesium 2.08
Titanium 0.62
Hydrogen 0.14
Phosphorus 0.13
Carbon 0.09
Manganese 0.09
Sulfur 0.05
Barium 0.05
Chlorine 0.05
Chromium 0.04
Fluorine 0.03
Zirconium 0.03
Nickel 0.02

Notable missing from top 20: Copper.
Carbon might replace copper for many electrical (and thermal) conduction applications - see [1], [2] and carbon nanotube 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg for further information. In September 2013, a proof-of-concept computer was built from carbon nanotubes [3]

Figures from [4]
Figures rounded to two decimal places
Also need to have a list based on ease of extraction and energy required
Element links in list point to element's Wikipedia article


Processed materials

Figures per kilogram of metal

  • Steel 60 megajoules (16.6 kilowatt hours)
  • Aluminium 320
  • Copper 116

Should state from what ore

Cost from mining (can be greatly reduced by biomining in some cases, maybe all)

Find good reference. (Temp [5])


Constituent elements of seawater

Approximate composition of seawater by mass:

Element  % mass
Oxygen 85.7
Hydrogen 10.8
Chlorine 1.9
Sodium 1.05
Magnesium 0.14
Sulfur 0.09
Calcium 0.04
Potassium 0.04
Others Trace

Figures from [6]
Need to find definitive primary source
Element links in list point to Wikipedia article


Constituent elements of air

Approximate composition of dry atmosphere by volume:

Element  % vol
Nitrogen 78.08
Oxygen 20.95
Argon 0.93
Carbon < 0.01
Others trace

Not included in above dry atmosphere:
Water vapour 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg (variable) ~1%

Source: NASA
Carbon dioxide updated (to 1998) by IPCC TAR table 6.1 [7]. Figure for carbon extrapolated from this
Edited text from [8]
Element links in list point to Wikipedia article


See also

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