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There’s Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

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There's Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

Image courtesy of: Wired

There’s Big Money to Be Made in Asteroid Mining

See the full version of the infographic.

If humans were ever able to get their hands on just one asteroid, it would be a game-changer.

That’s because the value of many asteroids are measured in the quintillions of dollars, which makes the market for Earth’s annual production of raw metals – about $660 billion per year – look paltry in comparison.

The reality is that the Earth’s crust is saddled with uneconomic materials, while certain types of asteroids are almost pure metal. X-type asteroids, for example, are thought to be the remnants of large asteroids that were pulverized in collisions in which their dense, metallic cores got separated from the mantle.

There is one such X-type asteroid near earth that is believed to hold more platinum than ever mined in human history.

Near-Earth Mining Targets

Asteroid mining companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are the first-movers in the sector, and they’ve already started to identify prospective targets to boldly mine where no man has mined before.

Both companies are looking specifically at near-Earth asteroids in the near-term, which are the easiest ones to get to. So far, roughly 15,000 such objects have been discovered, and their orbits all come in close proximity to Earth.

Planetary Resources has identified eight of these as potential targets and has listed them publicly, while Deep Space Industries has claimed to have “half a dozen very, very attractive targets”.

While these will be important for verifying the feasibility of asteroid mining, the reality is that near-Earth asteroids are just tiny minnows in an ocean of big fish. Their main advantage is that they are relatively easy to access, but most targets identified so far are less than 1,000 ft (300 m) in diameter – meaning the potential economic payoff of a mission is still unclear.

Where the Money is Made

The exciting part of asteroid mining is the asteroid belt itself, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. It is there that over 1 million asteroids exist, including about 200 that are over 60 miles (100 km) in diameter.

NASA estimates this belt to hold $700 quintillion of bounty. That’s about $100 billion for each person on Earth.

There are obviously many technical challenges that must be overcome to make mining these possible. As it stands, NASA aims to bring back a grab sample from the surface of asteroid Bennu that is 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) in size. The cost of the mission? Approximately $1 billion.

To do anything like that on a large scale will require robots, spacecraft, and other technologies that simply do not exist yet. Further, missions like this could cost trillions of dollars – a huge risk and burden in the case that a mission is unsuccessful.

Until then, the near-Earth asteroids are the fertile testing ground for aspirational asteroid miners – and we look forward to seeing what is possible in the future.

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How Much Gold is a Bitcoin Worth?

Bitcoin has long been dubbed “digital gold”, but how much gold is a bitcoin worth and how do market caps of the two assets compare?

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bitcoin visualized as gold

Visualizing a Bitcoin’s Dollar Value in Gold

Gold has been a store of value in recessions and financial crises, but over the last decade, bitcoin has started to steal its thunder. Sometimes even being dubbed “digital gold”, the cryptocurrency has echoed gold’s epic booms and busts except with much more volatility.

While most people have held gold in the form of jewelry or in various electronic devices, bitcoin remains a physically intangible asset that is stored on digital ledgers and secured with cryptographic keys.

Using price data from TradingView, this graphic compares the two assets by showing how much gold is equivalent to one bitcoin, while also visualizing bitcoin’s market capitalization and 2021 gold production in the form of gold cubes.

What is a Bitcoin’s Weight in Gold?

With a single bitcoin worth around $22,600 at the time of the visualization, this is equivalent to a small cube of gold just over 20 cm3, with each side measuring around 2.7 centimeters, or just over one inch.

This tiny gold cube that fits in the palm of a hand is not only worth $22,600, but also weighs an impressive 12.6 troy ounces (just under 0.8 lbs or around 357 grams) thanks to gold’s extremely high density of 19.32 g/cm3.

When converting the value of bitcoin’s entire market capitalization of $432.7 billion to physical gold, the gold cube would be 7.3 m (23.9 ft), taller than four people stacked on top of each other. To put this in perspective, we also visualized the amount of gold mined in 2021, which was around $204.9 billion worth, weighing in at 3,560.7 tonnes.

Comparing Bitcoin’s Digital Gold to Physical Gold

In its short 13-year lifespan bitcoin has grown tremendously to reach nearly half a trillion in market capitalization currently, but compared to gold it’s still small.

Just 2021’s gold production was worth nearly half of bitcoin’s entire market cap, and with gold’s market cap estimated to be around $11.7 trillion, it’s more than 20 times larger than that of the cryptocurrency’s.

While at first this might seem like a drawback for bitcoin, its small market cap has partially enabled its stratospheric price increases in bull runs.

Due to bitcoin’s smaller market cap, money flowing into bitcoin results in a larger percentage increase than if the same amount of money flowed into gold, giving the cryptocurrency more potential upside but also much more volatility as money moves in and out.

A Tale of Two Stores of Value

While gold has long been a safe haven asset or store of value for investors, in 2021 bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies got all the attention as the orange coin’s price surged by 59% and reached an all-time high of $69,000. However, since the start of 2022, bitcoin’s price has fallen by 49%, and is more than 65% from its all-time high of last year.

As a result of all this volatility, bitcoin is now below any price traded in 2021, meaning anyone who bought bitcoin in 2021 and held on is now down on their investment.

Meanwhile, gold fell by 4% in 2021, and is down another 2% in 2022, so while gold buyers of 2021 are also down on their investment, they’ve had a much smoother ride with smaller losses along the way.

Whatever lies ahead for these two unique assets, in terms of market cap size, returns, and volatility, the digital gold that is bitcoin has a long way to go before it catches up to the real thing.

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3 Reasons for the Fertilizer and Food Shortage

Bad weather, the war in Ukraine, and a shortage of fertilizer have led to fears of a global food crisis. Here are three factors you should know.

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3 Reasons for the Fertilizer and Food Shortage

Bad weather, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and a shortage of fertilizer have led to fears of a global food crisis.

This infographic will help you understand the problem by highlighting three key factors behind the mounting food crisis.

#1: The Fertilizer Shortage

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the war has disrupted shipments of fertilizer, an essential source of nutrients for crops.

Russia is the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and ranks second in phosphorus and potassium fertilizer exports. Belarus, a Russian ally also contending with Western sanctions, is another major fertilizer producer. In addition, both countries collectively account for over 40% of global exports of the crop nutrient potash.

Here are the top 20 fertilizer exporters globally:

RankCountryExports Value (Billions in USD)
#1🇷🇺 Russia$12.5
#2🇨🇳 China $10.9
#3🇨🇦 Canada$6.6
#4🇲🇦 Morocco$5.7
#5🇺🇸 United States$4.1
#6🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia $3.6
#7🇳🇱 Netherlands$2.9
#8🇧🇪 Belgium$2.6
#9🇴🇲 Oman$2.6
#10🇶🇦 Qatar$2.2
#11🇩🇪 Germany$1.5
#12🇮🇱I srael$1.5
#13🇪🇬 Egypt$1.5
#14🇱🇹 Lithuania$1.4
#15🇩🇿 Algeria$1.4
#16🇪🇸 Spain$1.3
#17🇯🇴 Jordan$1.3
#18🇵🇱 Poland$1.2
#19🇲🇾 Malaysia$1.0
#20🇳🇬 Nigeria$1.0

The main destination of fertilizer exports from Russia are large economies like India, Brazil, China, and the United States.

However, many developing countries—including Mongolia, Honduras, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, and Guatemala—rely on Russia for at least one-fifth of their fertilizer imports.

Furthermore, the war intensified trends that were already disrupting supply, such as increased hoarding by major producing nations like China and sharp jumps in the price of natural gas, a key feedstock for fertilizer production.

#2: Global Grain Exports

The blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet, along with Western sanctions against Russia, has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks, causing inflation in food and energy prices around the world.

This is largely because Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly one-third of the global wheat supply. Wheat is one of the most-used crops in the world annually, used to make a variety of food products like bread and pasta. Additionally, Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil.

ProducerGrain Exports in Million Tons (MT)
🇺🇸 United States93MT
🇷🇺 Russia & 🇺🇦 Ukraine87MT
🇦🇷 Argentina 56MT
🇪🇺 EU50MT
🇧🇷 Brazil44MT
Other87MT

As a result of the blockade, Ukraine’s exports of cereals and oilseed dropped from six million tonnes to two million tonnes per month. After two months of negotiations, the two countries signed a deal to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes that the international food crisis can be eased.

#3: Recent Food Shortages

Besides the war in Ukraine, factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change resulted in nearly one billion people going hungry last year, according to United Nations.

France’s wine industry saw its smallest harvest since 1957 in 2021, with an estimated loss of $2 billion in sales due to increasingly higher temperatures and extreme weather conditions.

Heat, drought, and floods also decimated crops in Latin America, North America, and India in recent months. Between April 2020 and December 2021, coffee prices increased 70% after droughts and frost destroyed crops in Brazil.

In the face of multiple crises, the World Bank recently announced financial support of up to $30 billion to existing and new projects in areas such as agriculture, nutrition, social protection, water, and irrigation.

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