Sunday, August 17, 2014

Collecting The Heaviest Metals: Re, Os, Ir and Pt

I am indebted to Zero Hedge member "Silver Rhino" who first presented to me the idea of collecting very heaviest of the elements, the four metals rhenium (Re), osmium (Os), iridium (Ir) and platinum (Pt).  In particular, he suggested these might be "collectible" as they would be very hard to counterfeit because of their density.   Counterfeiting precious metals is becoming more of an issue as those who are doing it are getting better at it...  There have been various reports, at least some of them true, of gold being counterfeited by tungsten.

All four of these are the densest (highest "specific gravity") materials found (not counting the radioactive elements).  All but Re are "Platinum Group" metals, all four share pretty similar chemical characteristics.  Here is a quick look at the densities and prices of these four metals:

(gm / cc)
($ / toz)


1)  Rhenium is available by the kilo, and has large price differences depending on form.
2)  Iridium has large price differences depending on form.
3)  Platinum price is as of today.

I would like to note that the above are heavier by a pretty good margin versus other metals, I believe gold is next at 19.30 gm / cc and tungsten at 19.25 gm / cc.  Depleted uranium (U-238) weighs in at about 19.05 gm / cc, but is radioactive (and so could be easily detected with Geiger counters and other detection equipment).

Platinum would be about 8% heavier than tungsten or depleted uranium, a good caliper and scale would be sufficient to tell Pt from W or U.

Rhenium is not a "Platinum Group" metal, but does lie adjacent to osmium on the Periodic Chart, and it also is rare, expensive and sought after (by some industrial users).

The other "Platinum Group" metals (palladium, rhodium and ruthenium) are considerably less dense (around 12 gm / cc, relatively close to silver and lead), and so are not examined in this article.

Each of these metals are discussed in nice articles at  ALL of the chemical elements are discussed there in separate articles, and wiki is the place to start for further research.

* * *

Platinum, of course, is by far the most familiar of these four heaviest metals.  A number of nations make Pt bullion coins (including the US Mint, which started making the Platinum Eagles again in 2014 due to investor interest).  Although Pt coins are not as popular as gold and silver ones, they can be found at larger coin shops.  Platinum would be the "third" precious metal for small investors interested in this kind of hard assets.  The price spreads are not too high for platinum, meaning that they are relatively easy to buy and sell, particularly the Platinum Eagle (here in the USA).  The Pt Eagles do however, command a premium (perhaps $100 per 1 oz coin) over other coins, but you would "get that premium back" upon selling (similar to buying and selling Silver Eagles here in America).

Of the four metals examined in this article, platinum would definitely be the one to start with if you own none of them yet.  Platinum is reasonably familiar to those who deal in precious metals, the price, while expensive, would not differ substantially from "wholesale" prices (which are a problem with the other three metals, as discussed below).

Platinum is used in catalysts (both car engine catalytic converters as well as in chemical & refineries) and is used in jewelry (diamond mountings in rings and even as platinum jewelry itself -- particularly in China).  While used in jewelry, many jewelers (small ones, say) find platinum to be hard to work with, as it is hard and has a high melting point vs. gold and silver.  But, silver is too weak to be used in mounting expensive diamonds.

Platinum was even used as a genuine circulating currency (in Russia in the 1800s for a while), in the unusual denominations of three, six and 12 rubles.  Here is a picture of a Russian Three Ruble coin from 1828 (image from

These Russian coins are extremely rare, one of my friends sent me an eBay link a year or so ago offering a six ruble coin for $19,000...  These platinum coins, of course, are for numismatists and other specialized coin collectors.

* * *

Osmium I have covered before, I bought a 1 troy ounce pellet (blob) from some time ago.  Os is said to have a blueish tint, and mine does, see the photo:

That little tiny blob weighs 1 troy ounce (about 31 gm).

Osmium is very hard and the densest (stable) material in the universe!  So, one would think that it would be a "must have" for everyone interested in materials.  Yes, well, OK it is kind-of cool, but Os reacts (slightly in blob form, much more so in powder form) to form TOXIC osmium tetroxide...  So, even though it is so rare, heavy and hard, well, I do not think it is a good "investment".  Apparently only some 2000 ounces are used in the USA each year, and the USGS (last I heard) does not even track its production.

* * *

Iridium is just barely behind osmium in density, hardness and rarity.  But, iridium has more industrial applications.  Like the other Platinum Group metals, it is used as a catalyst and is used in more applications than osmium.  Iridium apparently has a slight yellow tint (as osmium has a slight blue one).

Wikipedia's article mentions that iridium is used as a source of antiprotons (a form of antimatter).

Iridium, you may also recall, is the metal found in over 100 outcrops all over the world that marks the "K-T Boundary" (now officially called the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary), it is thought that this layer is remains of a meteorite that hit the Yucatan some 65,000,000 years ago, killing off the dinosaurs.  Iridium is much more common in meteorites than in rocks from the earth's crust.

Iridium powder (similar to what I recently bought) apparently is used to make the darkest black colorant in adding color to porcelains.

I was told by my iridium vendor ( that powder is the most usual way iridium is sold to (and used by) industry.  This source of iridium offered the one ounce to me for $709, where wants $980 plus shipping).  On the other hand, I have dark gray / black powder vs. a cool looking pellet.

Iridium is much less toxic than osmium, but as a powder it can react and burn in air (like so many other powders). has cut its price of 1 oz of iridium (to $1495 for their 1 toz ingot, I have their picture from my recent article:  That is still more than what I want to pay though...

* * *

Rhenium is available from for $269 per toz, here is their picture of their ingot:

Rhenium (Re)

I believe that investors may be able to get a better deal on rhenium from Lipmann Walton and Co., Ltd. (of the UK), I am waiting on price and/or availability (they might only quote by the kilo however), their website is very interesting to anyone likes chemistry or materials science:  Lipmann Walton buys rhenium from places like Kazakhstan, and then sends it off to metals refiner Heraeus of Germany to make it at least 99.9% pure.

A price I just saw (I do not know how current) is about an average of $3500 per kg (not toz), or some $105 - $110 in round numbers per toz:

Rhenium has one very interesting application that any prospective investors might want to know about: it is used in current "superalloy" third generation (newest jet engines, like used in the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" or the engines in the new US F-35 jet fighter) jet engine turbine-blades.  Rhenium superalloy provides better performance at some 50 degrees C than current alloys.  And there are no substitutes, an engine maker wants higher performing engines, they MUST use up to 6% rhenium.  For each turbine blade...

See the below cool picture from wikipedia's article on rhenium (this is Pratt & Whitney's F-100 engine):

Rhenium is extremely rare, platinum is 10 times more common.  Only about 50 metric tons (50,000 kg) are produced each year.  It is typically produced from molybdenum residues, it is a "by-product of a by-product" (from copper mines, especially Chile).

Apparently rhenium is of low toxicity.

* * *

OK, so all four of these "heaviest metals" are sufficiently dense vs. tungsten (or uranium) to be detected relatively easily.  So, if you have money left over from buying gold and silver, here would be my suggestions on investing in this "micro-sector":

1)  The obvious place to start would be platinum.  Platinum coins are produced by a number of mints, and are not really all that scarce.  Platinum is useful to industry (where gold has relatively minor applications).  Platinum is fairly easily recognized, and is liquid (an important consideration if you must sell it).

2)  IMO, if you could get it a good price, rhenium looks to be a pretty good "speculation in physical metal".  I really like that non-substitutable nature of its use in jet engine turbine blades, that bodes well for the demand of this metal going into the future.  If the future is going to be good (like we all hope, yet worry that it may not be), then rhenium looks promising.

3)  In third place is iridium.  This is easier to get than osmium, is not toxic, and has more applications.  I have not completed my research into iridium.  Perhaps by buying in large lots (say 100 toz or more), the prices might be more reasonable.

4)  Osmium, alas, is really only for hobbyists or if you "just want it" (and there are plenty of people who "want" stuff like that).  Osmium does have the bragging rights as to being the earth's scarcest metal and the densest.  Too bad it is toxic.  But, what do you want for only $400 (or so) per ounce?

Monday, August 4, 2014

President Ebola

Yes, yes, I understand that the title above is very inflammatory, but I cannot help but believe that this President has contributed, at a bare minimum in part, to several public health issues (all related to communicable diseases discussed here).

It is also very important to note that this story is moving very quickly, everything I write here is subject to being "old news" within a day or two (or even proven untrue in some cases).

I will not speculate what policies of other Presidents might have done re the two US citizens with Ebola (Dr. Kent Brantly is now being treated in Atlanta and (nurse, I believe) Nancy Writebol is en route), perhaps compassion might have been shown to both health workers who went to Africa to serve the poor in countries with Hellish conditions.  And it is important to be humane in treating our citizens, I respect that.

Nonetheless, there are reports (which I cannot verify, at least yet, this may change soon, if so, I will definitely be editing this piece...) that Ebola might be considerably more contagious than previously thought.  By air perhaps.  Apparently several health workers were fully suited-up in protective suits, and yet they still caught it.  Theories abound...

The current mainstream thinking, as far as I can tell, is that there is no real danger to the two US citizens being brought back to the USA for treatment in Atlanta (Emory University's hospital, and close to the CDC).  But...

Ebola in West Africa (from the Mirror of the UK, dated August 1, link:, does not include new cases in Nigeria or in Ebola's "traditional" epidemic zones in Sudan, etc.  The same report says SIXTY health care workers have already died from Ebola in this epidemic...

Here is a map of US Quarantine Zones (from Yahoo via

Here is a current ABC story on our two citizens to be treated in Atlanta (at time of writing only Dr. Kent Brantly is in treatment, Nancy Writebol may be leaving W. Africa today (Monday, August 4)):

The ABC report above mentions an "experimental anti-serum", Dr. Brantly reportedly received it.  The ABC report above shows Dr. Brantly arriving at the hospital, in his containment suit, but walking on his own.  ABC said he may be getting better.  ABC also reports that Dr. Tom Friedman (Director of the C.D.C.) is saying that any treatment for Ebola is still at a very early stage.

There are a LOT of conflicting claims (as you would expect) about whether Ebola is real or not (including an early "Ebola denier" at Zero Hedge) as well as claims of how contagious it is, etc.

Many of the doctors who caught Ebola in West Africa were apparently "suited-up" and already taking extensive precautions (eg, three pairs of gloves).

My own thought (and this is subject to change very quickly) is that our two citizens might better have been treated at one of our military bases already in Africa or on a hospital ship, just in case...

And who decided, and with what rationale, to allow the two American Ebola victims into the USA?

* * *

Along our southern border there are wildly conflicting reports of illegal immigrants including sick children) who have a variety of communicable diseases.  We already know from a leaked intelligence report from Customs and Border Protection (multiple sources, Google it!) that illegals immigrants from 75 countries have been detected (including 71 people from countries now infected with Ebola), it is not clear if they are being detained or what their current status is.  Over 1000 of these illegals are from China.  Other illegals are coming from Pakistan, Yemen, etc.  You get the picture, there are national security threats as well as public health issues...

Here is a link kindly contributed by ZH member "Pinche Caballero" (he provided a link to:, I have seen these kinds of reports.  But a Wordpress blog (even if it provides information similar to what I have heard before) cannot be considered authentic unless verified by other sources.

Bedbugs (already in NYC hotels, um, NOT fun)
Dengue Fever
Hepatitis A-E
Chagas Disease
Chicken Pox
But, The Guardian, a major and respected but somewhat leftist, newspaper out of the UK reports that reports of "epidemics" of communicable serious diseases along out southern border are not true (as well as other reports of criminals, dispersal of immigrants, etc.)...:

This piece is from July 15 (three weeks ago).  And I have my doubts as to how much faith we can have in The Guardian's reporting here.

There are other links and reports, both saying this (illegal immigrants bringing dangerous diseases with them) is a big problem, and other reports that deny that.

* * *

Nonetheless, all of the reports I have heard and read about re conditions at border camps housing the current wave of illegals are very bad especially re overcrowding.  Overcrowding invites outbreaks of contagious diseases...

One of the main "jobs" of our federal government is to maintain security along our borders.  This Administration has failed to do so.

This President has failed.  He has failed our Constitution by imposing ObamaCare.  He appears to be failing in his duty to protect and defend our country (never mind the Constitution).  He has earned the nickname I have given him, he is the most toxic president we have ever had.

President Ebola

Saturday, August 2, 2014

$50 Bills, Iridium, Bitcoin App For iPhone

In my article today, I decided to tie together three recent things that all (somewhat) tie in to inflation.  First, I believe they are lying to us, again.  Second, I wanted to show a couple of, well, unusual, ways to fight inflation, even if they are not practical for most people, but they are interesting!

I was just at CVS the other day buying some items.  The total came out to some $23 or so, and I did not have a $20 bill and enough smaller ones to cover it (I was at the automated check-out machines).  So, I asked the gal standing nearby if the machines accepted fifty-dollar bills.  She said yes, and she was right.  I got my change back all in order.  Here is our $50 (*click* any image for a better view):

Current US $50 Federal Reserve Note

But this reminded me of something about the US $50 FRN I ran into maybe a year or so ago.  The ATM that I normally use changed their payout from 25 * $20 bills (for $500, my limit) to FIVE $20 bills and EIGHT $50s.  I mentioned this in a blog piece, and asked if others of you were having similar experiences (getting fifties from the ATM, I had never seen that before in the USA, in Europe yes, I had seen 50 euro notes and smaller come out of their machines in Italy, for example).

I now have little trouble getting even a small retailer to take a $50 for small purchases (like at 7-11).  When I was young, sometimes retailers would complain if I tried paying with a $20 for very small purchases.

So, it looks like the $50 has become "the new twenty".  Several years ago, I hardly ever even SAW fifties, but now I get them, and spend them everywhere.

This is yet another sign of inflation.  More currency coming into the system.  Barron's, the weekend financial paper, shows ("Federal Reserve Data Bank", page M49 in my edition) that "Currency in Circulation" is about $1.284 trillion, up some 88.9 billion from last year.  That works out to some 6.8% increase in actual currency supply.

In my eyes, that translates to 6.8% inflation.

Also the Fed numbers show the total growth on their Balance Sheet: a growth of $840 billion to a new total of $4.450 trillion, that is a growth of some 23%.  Almost all of these "assets" are government debt...

So, depending on how you want to look at it, there is at least an inflation of 6.8%, perhaps quite a bit higher.  I think that 6.8% is a reasonable minimum figure for inflation.

As is so typical, it looks like they are lying to us as usual.

(Next time I go to CVS, I will ask them if the machines take $100s...)


Within the past week or so my one troy ounce of iridium arrived!  Iridium is the second heaviest (stable) element that exists, it is just barely beaten out by osmium.  The density of iridium is 22.56 g/cc and for osmium the density is 22.59 g/cc, essentially identical (just 0.13% difference).  For reference, platinum has a density of 21.45 g/cc (so some 5% less) and gold comes in at 19.30 g/cc.

But, the form I bought the iridium was in "Iridium Sponge", which turns out to be 60-mesh powder (very fine (small) particles).  It came sealed in a jar, if I break the seal, then should I choose to sell it, it would have to be carefully re-weighed and assayed, I do not know how much that would cost.  But, I have no interest in selling this iridium!  At some point I may want to test it, to see if it is real (iridium is perhaps the most resistant of all of the elements to chemical attack).  Use of hydrochloric acid would probably be a good test, iridium should resist it (not dissolve or change).  This one troy ounce cost me $709...

One troy ounce of Iridium, 60-mesh powder

Note the fine powder I "stacked" up for clarity, the color is indeed a dark gray.  I put a US $5.00 gold piece next to it for scale.  This iridium comes from, I got it about two weeks after mailing a personal check.

Iridium in "sponge" form is how it is used in most applications.  About 198,000 ounces of iridium are used worldwide each year.  The below is a chart showing use of iridium over the past few years (chart from Johnson-Matthey):

J-M notes that 178,000 ounces of iridium were used in 2012, I cannot reconcile that number vs. the other I recently read (198,000 ounces), maybe 198,000 is from 2013 (?).  Nor can I explain the the over 300,000 ounces used in 2010 and 2011.  Iridium is a very specialized material...  Iridium is used mostly for crucibles for growing single-crystal sapphires used in LEDs for TVs (from  Iridium is very hard (6.5 on the imperfect but well known "Mohs Scale"), has a very high melting point and resists almost every chemical attack in town.  It is also used in lesser quantities for high performance spark-plugs (racing cars for example) and in catalytic applications.

Recently a new supplier has come along offering exotic metals for "investors".  I had bought a pellet (blob) of osmium some time ago (, and in my internet explorations about a month ago I found this company: Rare World Metals Mint.  One of my "virtual friends" (from alerted me to the fact that this private mint was now selling iridium in a "nicer" form, with a stamp, purity, serial number, etc.  Here is a picture of their new product, a one ounce ingot of iridium (their RWWM and Globe logo is stamped on the other side):

Very nice!  Here is their web page describing their iridium:  The only real problem: they want $1595.00 for it!  Yikes!  Maybe the price has gone up lately.

But, I now own four of the six Platinum-Group Metals: platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), osmium (Os) and now iridium (Ir).  If I want to complete the collection, all that is left are rhodium (Rh, available from in Baird 1 toz bars) and ruthenium (Ru, also available from Rare World Metals Mint:  Their website is very interesting for people interested in exotic metals, highly recommended!


Many fans of Bitcoin ("BTC") have a mobile "app" that they can use to make purchases of products with their BTC that they may have in their wallets on their smartphone.  Almost all of these BTC apps were on "Android" (Google's OS, used in more smartphones than any other) devices.

Recently (maybe a week ago or so ago), Apple came to their senses and has now allowed at least one BTC app to be used on their iPhones as well.  Rumor had it that Apple wanted to make their own cryptocurrency, but it seems that enough people were ditching their iPhones for Androids because they liked BTC so much.  Who knows?

But, I installed the app by (note that is blockchain.COM, well known is apparently their owner though).  Installation of this app required an hour-long upgrade of Apple's operating system (I have an iPhone 4S, old!, and then a few minutes for the app itself.

So here you go! takes you here, the installation is easy (ha ha):

I am still trying to figure out everything involved with this app, but the key features are the ability to have your own wallet in your iPhone so you buy things with your BTC as well as receive them.

Remember this!  Bitcoin sells at a huge premium in Argentina now!  Argentina has capital controls in place that prevent their citizens from easily defending themselves from high inflation.  While BTC price is very volatile, it is likely to outperform Argentine Pesos (LOL...).