By Brandon Levy

It’s easy to get lost in the futuristic world of Bitcoin, NFTs and metaverse technology and forget just how advanced these seemingly intangible evolutions truly are. Through augmented reality (AR), VR, blockchain and various other developments, the world as we know it will be completely different by the end of the century. However, what will never change is our reliance on natural resources.

Our progression out of the natural world will ultimately be grounded in that which we aim to escape. From the wheel to the space age, and now onto the metaverse, everything we do (until we mine on other planets) will be a product of our planet’s resources. We are limited by our planet’s potential, but it seems we have only begun to scrape the surface.

There are two primary ways natural resources are used as we dive headfirst down this path of a new economy, society, and civilization–the manufacture of technology and the production of electricity. There are other resources that are foundational to the grassroots development of the metaverse.

Silicon

The metaverse is going to use decentralized currency to establish an economy. Most decentralized currency, specifically Bitcoin, is digitally mined. These operations, though expansive and specialized in their own ways, use miners that operate with Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASIC). ASICs are specifically designed for the bitcoin mining algorithm and most of them are made largely of silicon.

How sustainable is it?            

  • Pure silicon requires an incredible amount of energy in the form of heat and thus isn’t an incredibly sustainable product
  • Outside of ASICs, pure silicon is commonly used for solar cell photovoltaics. Luckily it has been proven that end-of-life cells can be effectively recycled into more tech-based applications
  • Silica, the predecessor of silicon, is a nonrenewable resource but is overwhelmingly abundant

Top exporter of silicon:

  • China

Top exporters of silica:

  • USA, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Saudi Arabia

Top exporters of pure silicon:

  • China, Norway, Brazil, Netherlands, France

Aluminum Alloys

The true access points for the metaverse are yet to be determined and flushed out. VR headsets like Oculus are a good start, but are we really all going to be wearing those big clunky goggles and holding those cumbersome remotes? However, the evolution of AR and VR will end up looking quite similar to that of the computer, in which what was once big and clunky will end up thin and sleek. Everything we consider “sleek” and “portable” today like the MacBook Air, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy and so on, uses aluminum alloy for its design. Assuming this trend continues, it’s fair to predict a large demand for aluminum alloy by companies properly positioned to create the metaverse’s points of access.

How sustainable is it?

  • Aluminum alloy is 100% recyclable and can be used again and again without diminishing in value
  • Aluminum in its raw form, though nonrenewable, is incredibly plentiful. In fact, it’s the third most plentiful raw resource on the planet
  • Transforming raw bauxite, the predecessor of much of the world’s aluminum alloy, into aluminum is incredibly energy intensive
  • The EPA claims that the release of perfluorocarbons released during aluminum’s smelting process is 9,200 times more harmful than CO2 for climate change

Top exporters of bauxite:

  • Australia, Guinea, China, Brazil, India

Top exporters of aluminum alloy:

  • China, Germany, USA, Canada, Italy

Copper Ore

The internet is made from servers and motherboards, much of which are made of fiberglass, copper, and various plastics. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll set our sights on the copper being used. Copper wire, as used in motherboards and printed circuit boards, as well as copper conductors used in undersea cables, are the bones of the digital world. One day this metal might be an artifact or relict denoting the “age of the internet” but for now it will serve the metaverse with a launching pad on which to leap off of and soar.

How sustainable is it?

  • Copper is 100% recyclable
  • Copper mining emits roughly 2.5 tons of carbon per ton of copper obtained
  • Smelting copper emits 1.65 tons of carbon
  • Some experts predict we might reach peak copper usage—the point at which humanity is mining the most copper it could possibly ever mine—some time around 2030, give or take 5 years

Top exporters of copper ore:

  • Chile, Peru, Australia, Canada, Mexico

Top exporters of copper alloy:

  • Chile, Russia, Japan, DR Congo, Zambia

Sources

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsenergylett.0c02100

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/silica-sands-and-quartz-sands

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/silicon-9999-pure-6280469

https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

https://endcoal.org/climate-change/

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-oil?tab=table&time=latest

https://www.ciena.com/insights/articles/5G-wireless-needs-fiber-and-lots-of-it_prx.html

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/close-to-16b-in-gas-investments-could-be-stranded-with-a-net-zero-by-2050/608510/

https://group.met.com/en/mind-the-fyouture/mindthefyouture/natural-gas-environmental-impact

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https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/top-reasons-solar-energy