About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Things book: Update

For the three or four of you who are chomping at the bit for What Things Are Made Of to come out, here’s a quick update. It’s almost done. 92,000 words, about 320 pages laid out as a 6x9 paperback. I still have to complete the references, index, and one annoying section in Chapter 7. Then I have to evaluate print-on-demand shops and figure out e-pub formats and make some decisions. I’m anticipating January or February 2011 for an availability date.

Thanks for the interest and support!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Manganese from Gabon

And we’re back… it was a busy and complicated summer and I’ve spent a LOT of time actually working on and thinking about What Things Are Made Of. The book is now at just over 80,000 words, with 8 chapters finished (two need some expansion and tweaking, and a summary chapter yet to complete). I'm looking at print-on-demand and E-book for actual publication.

I learned an interesting tidbit about manganese, a metal the U.S. uses mostly in steel alloys and imports at a rate of 100%. Our primary supplier is little Gabon, with 57% of our manganese ore imports. Gabon’s manganese is associated with a pretty cool location – the only natural nuclear reactor known on earth.

A little over two billion years ago fissionable uranium isotope U235 was more abundant in uranium deposits, at nearly three percent, than it can be today simply because over those two billion years most of it has decayed to lead. Evidently critical mass was reached in a uranium deposit back then, and nuclear reactions happened. It’s not perfectly clear why the manganese is associated, but it’s enough to make manganese Gabon’s second most valuable export. $100,000,000 worth came to the US in 2009 – but that pales in comparison to Gabon’s oil exports to the US, valued at $2,200,000,000, twenty-two times the manganese value.

Manganese steel is critical in construction, so the late 2000s recession has taken a toll. US manganese consumption in 2009 was a third of its use in 2006, but it is still a half-billion-dollar business in the United States.