An untapped universe of resources

Professor Brian Cox

Today's guest blog looks at how we should manage our waste and where are next resources may come from, with a little help from a certain Professor...

I've just been lucky enough to listen to Professor Brian Cox talk at the Resouces Efficiency and Waste Management Solutions conference. It has got me thinking not only about how little I know about astrophysics but also how we view our resources and the big changes in attitude we need.

Professor Brian Cox set the scene, in an understandably packed out theatre, by giving a fascinating explanation about how the universe and our resources were created and what the future possibilities are.

Without going into technicalities, all of our lighter elements were created within stars from Hydrogen and Helium but elements heavier than Iron can only be created by a Supernova. Considering these usually only happen once per galaxy per century, this explains why these resources are so rare. Did you know there are only five Olympic size swimming pools of gold on the entire planet!

He went on to discuss the amount of possible untapped resources in space, even within our own solar system, such as the vast oceans of liquid methane on Saturn's moon Titan. However, despite the best efforts in space travel, we are not there yet.

Resources are scarce...did you know there's only five Olympic size swimming pools of gold on the entire planet!

So what does this mean for our resources here on earth?

Considering their limited availability, surely we should be using and re-using them in the most efficient way possible and not just throwing them 'away'?

One question that was asked, apparently a regular favourite, is could we dispose of our hazardous waste into space? Resource scarcity aside, he explained that to send waste into low earth orbit would cost around $10,000 dollars per kilogram, using the Ariane 5 space craft. Without even discussing if we should be doing it, landfill tax would have to rise pretty sharply for this to become cost effective.

Although sustainability was not the theme of his speech, it was a clear message that until we can access resources from outside earth, we need to use our materials more efficiently and get better at not treating anything as waste but as an opportunity for resources that we can use again.

Image from Bob Leeon Flickr

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