Why We Mine for Gold
Why we mine for gold?
Since ancient Egyptian times, when gold was considered a divine metal and thought to be the flesh of the gods, the allure and magnetism of gold has translated through the ages. From the earliest days of royal and noble burials, it was the metal with which the Kings of Egypt surrounded themselves; it was the metal they placed within their tombs for use in the afterlife, it was imperishable, eternal and indestructible.
In 2008, GFMS Ltd estimated that the total gold supply was approximately 3,750 t. As gold is some 19.3 times heavier than water, this amount of gold would fill a box some 6 m wide by 6 m high by 6 m long.
Of the total gold supply in 2008, some 65% was from new mine production with the remainder sourced from recycling of gold ‘scrap’ and sales from central bank holdings.
Gold demand in 2008 was dominated by consumption in jewellery and fabrication (75%), with the remainder predominantly being investment demand.
Today, the enduring fascination with gold is perhaps most obvious in the glittering jewels that adorn the gowns, fingers and decolletage of catwalk models, celebrities and the seriously wealthy. Rare, beautiful and unique, it is still the metal of choice for jewellery-makers across the globe.
On the international money market, the value of gold as a financial asset and a store of wealth has been continuous and well documented. Paper currencies may come and go, but gold endures.
The Central Banks of most countries will hold a portion of their reserves in the form of gold. According to World Gold Council data, the proportion of gold in reserves currently averages around 9%, however in the EU it is over 25% and the USA holds around 60% of its reserves in gold. In total, Central Banks are estimated to hold over 32,000 t of gold. They hold gold to diversify their exposure to currency fluctuations and as absolute security, as gold is no one else’s liability, is indestructible and not directly influenced by the economic policies of any individual country.
Gold in its various forms – plating salts, rolled gold, liquid gold and gold leaf – is also commonly used in the manufacture of products clad with gold such as religious artifacts, pens, lights, gold-plated taps, gates and fences, and decorative plating on ceramics and glass, particularly perfume bottles. Builders, glass makers, printers and artists have used it to spectacular effect as a decorative layer.
But what isn’t so well known is that gold is used for a diverse range of purposes in the modern-day industrial, manufacturing and biomedical industries, and is increasingly being used in sophisticated industrial and medical applications – from electronics and dentistry to telecommunications, cancer research, nano-technology and catalysis.
While they often pass unnoticed, many of these common uses of gold are visible in people’s everyday lives, such as the use of gold plating and wires in the rapidly increasing credit card market.
Examine the battery connections of any mobile phone and you will almost certainly find gold-plated contacts. Similarly, there are usually gold-plated connectors within the standard home computer and it is an essential component of plugs and sockets for cable terminations, circuit boards and sockets.
In general, the more sophisticated the equipment, the greater the need to exploit the advantages of gold as a metal – meaning that in telecommunications, computers, automotive electronics and defence systems where safety is critical, gold is indispensable.
In the car industry, gold is there: think ignition control electronics, anti-lock brakes and electronic fuel injection.
In dentistry, there are records of the use of gold in dental applications as far back as the Etrucscans in the seventh century BC who used gold wire to hold in place substitute teeth, usually from a cow or calf, when their own were damaged.
Today, gold is popular in dentistry not only for its aesthetics, but for its malleability and resistance to corrosion. A typical crown and bridge contains 62-78 per cent gold.
In contemporary medicine, gold-plated stents are used to help support weak blood vessels. Many surgeons prefer these stents because they have the best visibility under an x-ray. It is also the material of choice for implants that are at risk of infection, such as the inner ear, because of its high resistance to bacterial colonization following microsurgery.
So too, without the reliability that gold provides in electronic components within medical devices such as pacemakers and ventilators, many medical treatments would not be as effective as they are today.
From drug delivery microchips to the use of gold complexes in the treatment of arthritis, research and development in the medical field and other disciplines is continuing to refine and discover new ways of using gold.
Did you Know?
- Gold’s efficiency as a reflector of heat and infra-red radiation has led to liquid gold being used to reduce heat transmissions from aircraft engines, and in the United States’ Apollo space program.
- The growth of the aero-engine and spacecraft industries has been helped to a large extent by gold. Nearly 41 kg of gold was used in the construction of the US Columbia space shuttle, especially in brazing alloys, fuel cell fabrication, coated plastic films and electrical contacts.
- The $1.5 billion Hubble telescope has been protected by gold coatings to provide corrosion resistance and electrical connections.
- Recordable compact discs depend upon gold’s high reflectivity. Disc players require a high reflectivity of the laser beam and the only materials that produce this effect are gold, silver or copper.
- The cockpit windows of modern jet aircraft are coated with a wafer-thin film of gold which deflects the harmful effects of the sun’s rays and forms an invisible film to resist extreme temperatures.
- Gold’s special optical properties are used in the building industry on some windows to reflect heat without reducing light.
- Researchers at the National University of Singapore have just patented novel gold complexes for use in pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer. Gold compounds could therefore be an effective cancer treatment in future.
- The use of gold in industrial applications currently accounts for a consumption of approximately 450 tonnes of gold per annum*.
- Material sourced from the World Gold Council website
For more information on the properties of gold and the latest commercial, industrial and scientific uses, go to: