Key idea: As investment in space technology booms, a trusted mineral extraction technique is under the microscope.
Original author and publication date: Joseph Smith- May 4, 2022
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: I still remember when mining in space was just a theme for science fiction movies, just a few years ago.
From the article:
Investment in space-based technologies is at an all-time high. An estimated $17.1 billion was invested into 328 space companies by venture capital firms in 2021. Wall Street forecasters project that the ‘space economy’ will be worth trillions within the next 20 years and investment into space infrastructure has already grown by 50% since 2020 with $14.5 billion invested just last year.
One sector that is at the forefront of this rapid growth in space-related industries is space mining. We are now entering an era of commercial resource extraction in space and countries are now competing to gain access to the vast wealth of rare minerals available across our solar system and beyond.
he United States has become the first nation to ratify a law that recognizes property rights regarding materials acquired in space. Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates are not far behind in this respect and are rapidly getting closer to implementing laws regarding space resource extraction. Many other countries, including China and Russia, have also made space mining a matter of national importance.
The potential financial benefits of mining in space are significant. The major asteroid belt in our solar system alone is so rich in mineral wealth that its value would give each person on earth $100 billion.
For decades, scientists have puzzled over techniques to extract this wealth from space. However, the technology required to harvest these riches may have been under our noses the entire time in the process of biomining.
Already widely used to extract valuable minerals such as copper, gold, zinc, and cobalt on earth, biomining is a process whereby specific types of microbes leach these valuable metals directly from ores below the earth’s surface. It has been proven to be successful on an industrial scale across Chile. Biomining developments such as Lo Aguirre produced over 300,000 tonnes of copper between 1980 and 2002. Other mines in Chile have exclusively been using bioleaching to extract minerals since 1994.