Did you know there’s gold in your pocket?

Friday, 29 March 2019
London, UK
By Sam Volkering

  • Volko’s brekkie routine
  • How to mine in the modern world
  • Don’t give away value for free

I woke up this morning, had a shower and then headed downstairs to grab some breakfast. Typically ‘brekkie’ to me alternates throughout the week. It’s a fluid relationship.

The roster includes good old traditional Corn Flakes or sometimes Weetbix. Although to be completely honest, it’s Crownfield’s Corn Flakes and ‘Bixies’ — ‘cos I shop at Lidl like a smart person.

Sometimes I’ll throw in a couple slices of Vegemite on toast (believe it or not, Vegemite is readily available at ASDA near me — I’m in the UK remember, so this is a big deal).

Then it’s coffee (or two) and OJ.

Some mornings, I’ll do a couple eggs on toast instead (usually on a weekend). Or if I’m up early and not in the mood for solids, it’s time to pull out the Nutribullet and ‘get my smoothie on’.

Then it’s into the freezer for the frozen berries, bit of natural yoghurt, milk, splash of ‘superfood’ dust, bit of honey and a banana.

If you’re partial to a smoothie every now and then, you might have your own little recipe. And when you’re not in the mood for solids, really, nothing beats a nutritious, energy packed homemade smoothie.

And I must say (this is not a paid commercial) the Nutribullet is a revelation in my house hold. We got an imitation one previously which lasted about two weeks before the motor carked it. Sent it back, got the real thing and it’s lasted comfortably three years now.

Ideally, one day I’d like to get one of those Vitamix blenders. That’s the granddaddy of all blenders. Comparing a Vitamix to a Nutribullet is like comparing the Bugatti Chiron to an Audi TT.

However, the reason I want a Vitamix for its raw blender horsepower isn’t what you might think. I have no intention of ever making a smoothie with it. I’ve got no intention of actually blending any food with it. Not ever.

Instead, I plan to use it to make myself a bunch of money.

I’m going to start mining with a Vitamix.


Overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 91.87 points, or 0.36%.

The S&P 500 gained 10.07 points, or 0.36%.

In Europe, the Euro Stoxx 50 index finished down 1.75 points, or 0.053%.

Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 rose 0.56%, and Germany’s DAX gained 9.12 points, or 0.080%.

In Asian markets, Japan’s Nikkei 225 is up 150.70 points, or 0.71%. China’s CSI 300 is up 3.02%.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 is up 20.10 points, or 0.33%.

On the commodities markets, West Texas Intermediate crude oil is US$59.62 per barrel. Brent crude is US$68.09 per barrel.

Turning to gold, the yellow metal is trading for US$1,289.94 (AU$1,819.85) per troy ounce. Silver is US$15.03 (AU$21.21) per troy ounce.

One bitcoin is worth US$4,039.53.

The Aussie dollar is worth 70.86 US cents.

Modern mining

When you think about mining, a few things usually come to mind. Giant open cut mines in the middle of the outback. Giant CAT trucks hauling dirt around. Big drilling rigs and digging rigs the size of buildings. Men in hard hats and hi-vis, flying-in and flying-out of the mining sites.

If you’re a little more tech-savvy, mining might also conjure up a rack of GPUs whirring away on the hunt for bitcoin or another proof-of-work cryptocurrency.

But I’m pretty sure that when you think ‘mining’, you don’t think of a Vitamix.

Today, I do.

Should I let you in now on what I’m going to mine, and how I’m going to do it with a Vitamix?

OK, I’m going to mine smartphones. Actually, I’m going to blend smartphones.

Yep, I’m going to go around to all my friends, all my family and I’m going to ask them politely for their old smartphones. If they won’t just give them to me willingly, then I’m going to pay for them.

How much I’ll pay will depend on the model. But I’m going to mine smartphones.

Why? Well it should be blatantly obvious. However, to most people it’s not. Let me give you a hint though, there’s a reason why smartphones cost so much. And it’s not all down to industrial design and a fancy operating system.

I didn’t come to this conclusion all on my own. I got there thanks to science!

You see, scientists at the University of Plymouth (here in the UK) decided to blend a smartphone recently. Their aim was to blend a smartphone into dust so they could do a chemical analysis of the materials used.

Their aim was to show the levels of rare ‘conflict’ elements contained within the humble smartphone. The results were astonishing. According to the University,

The results showed the phone used in the tests contained 33g of iron, 13g of silicon and 7g of chromium, as well as smaller quantities of other abundant substances.

However, it also featured a number of critical elements including 900mg of tungsten and 70mg of cobalt and molybdenum, as well as 160mg of neodymium and 30mg of praseodymium. And each phone contained 90mg of silver and 36mg of gold. 

This means that concentration-wise, a phone has 100 times more gold — or 10 times more tungsten — than a mineral resource geologists would call ‘high-grade’.

It also demonstrates that to create just one phone you would need to mine 10-15kg of ore, including 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 1kg of typical copper ore, 750g of typical tungsten ore and 200g of typical nickel ore.

Now if the spot price of gold is US$1,291.20/ounce, then 36mg equates to roughly US$1.63 of gold. If silver is US$15.19/ounce, then 90mg is about US$0.048. A kilogram of Tungsten is about US$30.30, so that’s another US$0.027. Neodymium is going for about US$375 per kilo, so that’s another US$0.06. There’s also around 9 cents of chromium too.

Already from our phone blending, we’re up to US$1.85 — and we haven’t even factored in the iron, silicon, cobalt, molybdenum, praseodymium. All up we’re getting close to US$2 in ‘rare earth’ metals in the phone.

OK, I hear you saying, ‘two bucks and I get to destroy a Vitamix each time I blend another phone, doesn’t really make economic sense!’

And you’d be right. I had grand plans to blend smartphones, but in reality, they’re just pipedreams. What I also didn’t mention is the scientists did their blending after also mixing it at around 500 degrees Celsius with sodium peroxide.

Not really something we’d want to do in the kitchen. However, what this does raise, as a legitimate opportunity, is the fact there are valuable materials in each and every smart device we own and use.

Recently, I’ve started seeing Apple advertising that they’ll happily recycle your phones for you. And not just iPhones — they’ll recycle any smartphone. It’s not just because they want to be environmentally friendly. They want your phone’s metals.

And let’s not forget that the battery (which the scientists didn’t blend, because it would have exploded) contains a bunch of lithium and cobalt as well. And it makes up a big part of the mass of your phone.

The smart device recycling game is going to be big business for those that can get their hands on the billions of devices that are now floating around the world. Personally, I think I have six smartphones still at home, including the two we currently use.

We’re not exactly sitting on a goldmine, with those…well we kind of are. But there’s real value there. Mining smartphones might not be the most economic way to spend your time (or the safest) but there’s value there. So don’t give it away for free.

And if you had any doubts about the increasing need for more and more of the world’s ‘rare earths’, then just have a look at the shiny black rectangle in your pocket.