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In my world, there is a dangerous ore that is very explosive if struck harshly, making picaxes useless. Despite this, the kingdoms want to mine it to clear room for construction, and use the substance for heating and early forms of combustion engines. Some worldbuilding notes:

  • Their technology is similar to the late 18th-early 19th century
  • Magic is energy-based
  • While difficult and expensive, the substance is less dangerous when cooled down.
  • The demand for mining and extracting it is high
  • The ore is as hard as iron ore
  • If you suddenly feel hot deep underground without torches or a fire, then there is some nearby

In the end, how could a dangerous substance as this be mined?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is the substance itself hard? How can you identify it? Is it pressure or the sudden difference in pressure that makes it go off? I'm assuming it somehow does not go off through geological activity. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 16, 2022 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ How this ore is deposited? Can there be a chain reaction that blows up a whole mountain? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jul 16, 2022 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ "As hard as a crystal: This phrase is meaningless. All minerals are crystalline, by definition. Some, such as talc or gypsum, are very soft, softer than human nails. Others are very hard. (And it is always hot underground. Miners need cooling, not heating. Some of the most impressive air conditioning machines in this world serve really deep mines.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 17, 2022 at 4:05
  • $\begingroup$ What is it exactly about the striking that triggers the explosion? Is it the short time over which the force is applied? Or the magnitude of the force that is applied? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 17, 2022 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ What about tectonic activity, why did that not blow up that ore firsthand? Perhaps if the ore could sustain tectonic waves, it can sustain something weaker like whacking it with a hammer? Also secomding question about chain reaction, if someone did mine such an ore before aand it went boom, did the whole mountain boom, with consequences like a nuclear winter or volcano eruption? Otherwise, how did the people of yours get to know that this ore goes boom when using a pickaxe? $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Jul 17, 2022 at 9:51

6 Answers 6

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Hydraulic mining.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_mining

hydraulic mining

Hydraulic mining developed from ancient Roman techniques that used water to excavate soft underground deposits. Its modern form, using pressurized water jets produced by a nozzle called a "monitor", came about in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush in the United STates...

Your blowuppable stuff is gently rinsed free with lilac scented water. Grade schoolers with soft hands and specially trained little birds pick up the loosed chunks and ferry them to soft pillows. The nuggets of boom are then pressed into chunks of fudge to stabilize them until they can be put to your stated industrial uses.

I realized that now I am hungry for fudge and that could be problematic in a scenario where available fudge is so dangerous. Fudge for this purpose would be made in flavors that no-one likes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reading the article, the only available type of hydraulic mining for the time period is hushing. This is either redirecting streams for erosion or making large reservoirs above what you want to mine and have it run down the soil. Basically a water made landslide. Seems awfully dangerous for this kind of ore. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jul 17, 2022 at 10:28
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You could slowly increase pressure on a wedge via hydraulics until the ore breaks apart.

The most efficient way to do this is probably some kind of drilling. Depending on where you want to draw the line, you can either drill it out at normal speeds and feeds and collect the debris or slowly feed a low RPM, high torque auger drill.

Particularly when drilling at normal speeds you want to ensure that you get an uninterrupted cut (i.e. once you're cutting material you continue to cut material. No interrupted cuts because that results in banging. (i.e. the cutting encounters free space before re-engaging the material). This is kind of why saws will not work since saws have discrete teeth, but a "knife wheel" would if it could cut the material.

Or you could use abrasive technology to mine it though this would be kind of a pain in the ass since it would be like trying to mine with a cutoff wheel or directly applying a grinder to the ore in-situ and collecting the dust.

These would minimize sudden forces being applied to the ore.

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Sawing/abrasion.

In several mining types sawing is used to mine out big blocks. Where a pickaxe breaks the stone in one massive strike, a saw is many tiny strikes against the surface. With hardened steel and possibly more ways to have strong teeth it should be possible to mine iron ore.

Alternatively you can use sanding. You just need to sand down around a block, which is then removed. Sanding is in a way sawing to the extreme, using the rough surface to whittle down a material.

Both types do need to maintain heat. You can use oil or even just water for lubricant and cooling.

The sanding could also bedone to make the ore into a fine powder intentionally. The precursor combustion engines are likely to work much like current combustion engines. Fuel is sprayed into a chamber with air where it is combusted. The ore can be dosed in the required quantities better if it's reduced to practically sand.

For more speed and danger during excavation a chisel can be used as well.

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Caustic Solution

Basically you could use acids to dissolve everything around the ore to cleanly separate the ore from the earth(without impacts, unless you let it fall) and likely obtain the purest possible form of it. May or may not dissolve the ore itself as well depending on the reactivity of your ore, though then again even the most non-reactive metal, gold, could dissolved, via Aqua Regia. Depending on your needs and your advancements you might actually want a dissolved liquid-like substance of this boomium, as it'll basically be a fuel like that if you can find a way to have it still release its energy as a dissolved/liquid substance.

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Magic sounds like a good idea, but is magic available to all in your world if not the use of a person of magic might not be efficient. Most mines are run by people that are expendable in dark places. Maybe bronze pickaxes that way no sparks and you could pry the mineral out. Also iron ore come in different hardness some are metallic but some are banded in sedimentary rock formations. There is minerals we find in nature that can cause problem as Sodium and Potassium where water can make them explode just to give an idea of explosive minerals.

My answer would be to use tools that would minimize impact and sparks.

Iron info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_ore Potassium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium Sodium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium Non Sparking Tools: https://www.intercon1978.com/blog/2018/04/25/what-are-non-sparking-tools-and-what-are-they-made-of

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I am curious as to how this ore would react to a violent earthquake or volcanic eruption. What about a landslide during the rainy season? Or a winter avalanche? A natural substance which reacts so violently to physical trauma would have plenty of opportunities to do so just from natural planetary forces. This would have a significant impact on the planet’s geological history.

Does the ore itself need to be explosive for story purposes, or can it be stable while in ore form and reactive in a refined form? It might not be economical to move the raw ore, thus it would need to be processed prior to moving it for utilization. Could it form as mineral deposits inside hot springs but becomes reactive once removed from the water? Mineral formation might allow it to form inside caves as well, which tend to form in more geologically stable areas. Does it need to be explosive when struck from all angles? Could it form in slate-like sheets which could be safely removed if hit from the proper angle?

As for the direct mining of such an ore, it would be like mining nitroglycerin. As for your magic being energy-based, can it cause a drop in temperature? If the material generates its own heat, it will have expanded to a certain degree. Rapidly decreasing its temperature would cause it to contract. This contraction could cause cracks and spalling to occur. If the ore was doused in water, the freezing of water inside cracks would increase the amount of damage due to the expansion of ice crystals. The miners could also slowly drill holes in the ore, fill the holes with water, and freeze it to cause the ore to fracture. Even without using cold magic, cooling it off with water could cause it to contract. The repeated application of this method would mimic seasonal winter erosion and allow the miners to simply sweep up the resulting debris. It would likely be a miserable and slow method of mining ore, but safe enough in theory for such a substance.

Can your magic create concentrated heat and telekinesis? If so, one magic user could melt the ore inside the mine where it is encountered, while another one telekinetically picks up the molten fluid, forms it into bars, and places them in a pile to cool. Can your magic create sonic vibrations? Turning the ore into dust would allow for it to be safely collected. Embedding it inside softer mineral deposits might allow for easier extractions. If it is normally found in sandstone, removing the sandstone could be easily accomplished using hard scraping tools. Having it form in salt flats would be even easier as adding water would remove the salt.

Other potential ideas would be to utilize the same methods used by fossil hunters. Miners could remove the ore encased in a larger rock. That rock is moved to an area where the mineral can slowly be chipped out by experts. Trenching around the ore would allow the miners to break it free and remove it. They could also use smaller hand tools to slowly remove the rock around the ore but this takes time. (http://preparation.paleo.amnh.org/35/techniques-in-the-field)

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