3
$\begingroup$

I have asked a question similar to this one, but I am writing a post apocalyptic story that takes place 10,000 to 20,000 years in the future. However, I found out that regular metals decompose in a 1,000 years. I have tried searching online, but I cannot find a good answer. Do you have an answer to how long stainless steel will last?

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The British Stainless Steel Association offers a clear answer. Thank you, favorite Search Engine! $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 12 '18 at 2:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @user535733 where in that "clear answer" does it say, "stainless steel will last X years? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 12 '18 at 2:18
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ There are too many alloys of stainless steel and too many environmental conditions to answer your currently constructed question. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 12 '18 at 2:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you are asking because you want stainless steel to be present in 10,000 years then you can simply have it exist. You should go with believable rather than 100% accurate as this will give you more flexibility when writing the story. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Nov 12 '18 at 2:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Or, to build on @Shadowzee's comment, choose to bring your timeline a hair closer to the present. Why so long out? You don't really gain anything from it (other than the complexity of explaining how things never intended to last that long... did...). $\endgroup$ – JBH Nov 12 '18 at 4:37
2
$\begingroup$

Metals don't decompose, they oxidize

In other words it doesn't matter so much as what it is made of but more of where it is left.

Drop a Buick in a tar pit for a million years, clean her up, change the battery and she'll run just fine. (assuming the heat doesn't melt the plastics ~ )

Machines don't like water and air

From comments :

..but you see that is precisely my point, it is the environment that determines the longevity of a material. More precisely, it is the composition of the material with respect to the active chemistry of the environment in which it is left that determines a material longevity

can be further refined to:

"it is the composition of the material with respect to the active chemistry and energy of the environment in which it is left that determines a material longevity"

added to ambiguously encompass other important factors.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The issue with this is that stainless steel is not entirely a metal. It is an alloy between purified iron and carbon, meaning that it can be susceptible to decomposition, just like any other organic material. $\endgroup$ – Bewilderer Nov 12 '18 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Bewilderer Lots of inorganic materials decompose, and not all organic materials decompose - for example, honey. And, not all carbon-based chemicals are classed as organic (e.g. Cyanide or Graphite - which is a closer match for the carbon in Iron or Steel) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Nov 12 '18 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Bewilderer You know what honey is an excellent example. Honey does decompose when mixed with water. Havent you ever heard of Mead? Well not so much decomposition so much as fermentation, but then what is fermentation but the biologically driven decomposition of sugar molecules in the presence of oxygen and water into CO2, alcohol and other organics. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 12 '18 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Honey is stable (as long as you don't mess with it) because of its low water content: it makes it very hard for bacteria to eat. Not impossible, but hard enough that its great for bees. Adding water, therefor, ruins that property, which is like saying "Stainless steel? I bet if you heat it up, it'll melt! Take that cars! Not so durable now!" There is no substance that will not in some way degrade under every possible environment: too cold, too hot, too wet...something always gives. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Nov 12 '18 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s but you see that is precisely my point, it is the environment that determines the longevity of a material. More precisely, it is the composition of the material with respect to the active chemistry of the environment in which it is left that determines a material longevity. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 12 '18 at 19:08
0
$\begingroup$

The chief way to break down a metal is to oxidise it. Water, heat, and strain help to speed the oxidation. I don't know if stainless steel would last 10ka on a hypothetical hillside, but if you just need to maintain a metal object there are easy story solutions -- get the metal away from oxygen and water.

Obvious methods would be sitting in anoxic lake sediment, or sealing inside a stalactite or amber. Doesn't even need to be stainless steel.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.