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The World has just received an official communication: on December the 21st 2022 we will receive a special visit.

Techno Mage Master Balmelgas will be visiting Earth on his wonder ship Sol Invictus.
His purpose: to adopt a Rose.

In exchange he will give to the World one material we may need. Just one but in any quantity we may choose.
His powers are unfathomable. He may raise sea levels by 100 meters, make a mountain chain made of solid gold in the Sahara desert or a ring of diamonds around the largest city.

World leaders, in a rare moment of enlighment, have decided to collaborate and ask something that will benefit mankind as a whole. Specifically the request must be thus that world economy has the best possible improvement. Benefits are going to be distributed to everyone.
The problem is Governments are at a loss about what to ask.
Can the wise people at Stack Exchange help?
What material would provide the most improvement to world economy?

Conditions:

  • a small sample of the material must be provided by World governments so that it can be replicated in the required quantity. No Unobtanium.
  • the material must be simple. It can be a metal, a molecule, a polymer but no more that 3 elements in it. E.g. the molecule of Methane CH4 or Glucose C6H12O6 are admitted. Ammonium acetate NH4CH3CO2 is not.
  • delivery will be agreed upon so that no accidents may happen.
  • World governments will have to provide containment to the material, if needed. E.g. it 's fine to ask for 1000 tons of Plutonium. Delivered material will be beamed directly in containment cells all over the world if such is the request. But the containment of the material must not become too much of an economic burden.
  • Effects on world economy must be considered. Specifically the law of offer and demand. Would the abundance of the material make it worthless? Or would the boost in economy be such that demand would stay high?
  • Redistribution of the generated wealth is not a concern in choosing the material. Let's just assume that global economic gains are going to be accounted for and equally redistributed.
  • only a material will be provided, not any specific structure made of that material. E.g. no space elevator magically appearing in place. The Mage provides the material but the hard work is up to us.
  • Techno Mage Master Balmelgas will leave by January the 6th 2023. By then all the required material will be delivered. This means that something like a river that will keep flowing after the 6th of January is not a feasible request.

Please specify how the choosen material would improve world economy.
If possible (not strictly required) specify quantity to require. If not specified Governments are just going to ask for A LOT of it, as much as reasonably possible.

** Bounty will be added when eligible **

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 18, 2022 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ Does "improve the world economy" have a time horizon? Tomorrow, next year, in the lifetime of our children, in the next few thousand years? $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Nov 19, 2022 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @gs Given that governments are involved I expect they would want to start seeing improvements in a limited timeframe, potentially building up more in the future. They would certainly not care for an improvement that will be usable hundreds of years in the future. They never did. Still governments are trying to take action against climate change now even if the worse of it may happen in about 50 years from now. So in short: "within the lifetime of our children, the sooner, the better". $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 1:07

26 Answers 26

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Get Balmelgas to do some geoengineering for us.

Foresterite (Mg2SiO4) is a type of olivine, a class of minerals that are particularly reactive with atmospheric carbon dioxide. Mining and dispersal of olivines has been proposed as a potential method for accelerated weathering, to increase the rate at which natural geological processes draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Having it in a fine-grained form, spread over much of the Earth's surface, would accelerate the rate at which atmospheric carbon dioxide would react with the mineral.

At a sufficient scale, dispersing this mineral (or another olivine) over Earth's surface could allow us to slow and perhaps even reverse climate change. And it hardly needs to be said that if we could reverse climate change, it would have huge beneficial effects on the global economy.

So the request would be, more or less:

Here is a sample of powdered forsterite. Please provide us with about a trillion tons [exact amount TBD] of this material in this form, spread in a uniform layer over Earth's surface. Maybe don't put any on the more populated areas, though. And dump some in the oceans too, that'll help with acidification we've caused.

Addition
This article provides additional details on the method. It focuses on altering the alkalinity of the oceans but the idea is the same.
Here the scientific papers

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    $\begingroup$ A quadrillion tonnes is probably too much. Given: the density of forsterite, a packing fraction of 0.4 (typical value for uniform powders of around 10um in particle size), and about 50% of the land surface of earth being uninhabited, you'd bury all that land to a depth of about 11.5m in finely powdered forsterite. Really we need to remove about 10Gt CO2/yr to ameliorate the worst of climate change, which would "only" require about 10B tonnes per year that we need to do this, so call it 100 years or "only" about a trillion tonnes. That much powder would be ~1cm deep given the same assumptions. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2022 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @realityChemist: Thanks for the order-of-magnitude check! I have edited the answer accordingly. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2022 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any idea of the time scale of the chemical reaction? Could you provide an order of magnitude to decrease CO2 in a significant way? I could not fint in the linked article. What if the olivine dust were to be spread in the stratosphere too? $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2022 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake: I honestly don't know. The place I would look is this National Academies of Science report but the site is not responding just now. I'll try to remember to check again later this weekend and see what I can figure out. $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2022 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ If we wanted to do that, we could just add iron nanoparticles to the antarctic ocean. It's been know for decades that such an. addition would spark massive CO2 capture in a short time frame. The problem, as always, would be that humans would take it as free license to produce enough CO2 to compensate. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2022 at 17:55
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If the goal was to have benefits to the ecology or quality of life of humanity, I'd say Lithium or some other battery input that would reduce strategic resource scarcities in renewable energy-enabling technologies like grid-scale energy storage.

But if you want to just drive the global GDP I'd say steel. Specifically, 1 megaton of steel delivered to 35,786km above mean sea level, with velocity at delivery of 11,300 km/hr. In other words: 1 million tons of steel delivered to geosynchronous orbit.

That takes the cost of constructing an orbital ring around the Earth from trillions of dollars to maybe a billion or two. It would require the launch of fabrication equipment, but since the main cost of doing anything in space is in the launch costs of getting mass up there, having a million tons of basic steel already in orbit means we can focus on launching high-value-per-kg stuff instead.

Once the orbital ring is in place, the resource base that world industry can work with is powerfully extended well beyond the Earth itself. This will likely drive several major learning processes which further reduce the costs of moving material to and from orbit.

We have the necessary technologies already - it's just the cost of bootstrapping that's preventing us from doing it.

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    $\begingroup$ Why not copper? Steel displaced copper for many things simply because it was more abundant and cheaper, not necessarily superior in properties or workability. Similarly, cobalt is surprisingly similar to steel and superior in other ways but is expensive and therefore not used often. But when used is used in large amounts the same way iron is for steel. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ Only problem with steel is that you'd only get one alloying element besides carbon. No chromoly steels, most stainless ones are out... $\endgroup$
    – Salda007
    Nov 18, 2022 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ There's a few more problems with the steel idea. Like that one Megaton isn't nearly enough. A Yamato class Battleship displaces ~70.000 tons, at a length of some 260m. 1 Million tons of steel is around 14 Yamatos, end-to-end that's about 3,6km worth of steel train. Not quite enough to go around the earth. Granted, you can skimp a little on the armor plating of your orbital ring, but even with the most optimistic of planning you're not going to stretch that amount of steel around the globe, and most definitely not for 1-2 Billion dollars. It's a novel idea, though. $\endgroup$
    – Mookuh
    Nov 18, 2022 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ @matt_rule Like the Moon, in order to make that megaton change orbit it'll need to get impacted very hard. There is less atmospheric pressure at that height than solar wind, therefore there is no actual possibility other than an unexpected collision of a passerby asteroid that can alter that steel's orbit enough to drop it on the surface. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Nov 18, 2022 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen: Copper is way too soft. Titanium, Aluminium or Magnesium might be more useful. Stiffer per ton than steel, and you get to pick 2 elements for use in alloys. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Nov 18, 2022 at 13:57
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The million-tons-of-steel-in-orbit suggestion has merit, but can be optimised. The most valuable things to have in space are something to build with, something to breathe, and something to burn for fuel, and there are plenty of simple compounds that can contribute to all three. I propose a gigaton (because go big or go home) of titanium hydroxide $\mathrm{TiH_2O_2}$ (or $\mathrm{TiH_4O_4}$, the internet seems to be conflicted about whether it's $\mathrm{Ti^{2+}}$ or $\mathrm{Ti^{4+}}$) delivered to geosynchronous orbit. Titanium is at least as good as steel for construction, and for every ton of building material we also get 360kg of water and 320kg of oxygen, perfect for orbital life support and rocket fuel production.

Since we'll be going all-out-no-expense-spared in the preparation of the sample, we'll also make sure that the titanium contains a decent proportion of $\mathrm{^{51}Ti}$, which will decay in a few minutes to give us a little bit (ie a few million tons) of vanadium, dope the oxygen with $\mathrm{^{15}O}$ which will decay to nitrogen after 122s, and mix as much tritium into the hydrogen as we can possibly get our hands on, up to a couple of percent.

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    $\begingroup$ While TiH2O2 is acceptable adding isotopes is not. An isotope can have completely different properties from the original element. Asking for isotopes is fine. But each counts as one element. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ Chemically isotopes are almost indistinguishable (with hydrogen/deuterium/tritium being a notable exception), but I agree that it's an attempt to wish the genie for more wishes. Master Balmelgas will have to decide how pedantic he wishes to be about the naturally-occurring distribution of stable isotopes of the elements in the sample, or whether to insist that the humans present an atomically pure sample to prove their worthiness for the Great Exchange. $\endgroup$
    – Stephen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ There are issues with doping process, as the wizard is picky with 3 elements per Wish. Let's assume he accepts the thing made of doped TiH2O2 at T=0, but goes for investigation at T=1 day. Surprise, the thing now has Ti, V, N, H, O. Boom, disqualified. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Nov 18, 2022 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephen "Do not haggle in the offers of Mages, for they are subtle and quick to anger." Still yours is an ingenious answer and that pleases the Mage. Plus he can't honestly ask for the material to be absolutely pure. I don't believe today's tech is capable of doing that. He is just going to leave the spurious elements out. If we were to give him a glass of water telling him to duplicate the H2O that is what we will have. Not the 1 in 1 million extra molecule. The decayment is a subsequent event, originating from the accepted material. That is accepted. Good thinking. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ TiH2O2 is not a metal, and will have to be processed before being put to use. We don't have systems in place capable of converting that massive amount of ore into titanium in space, on any reasonable timescale. Some alloy of titanium would be better, even if we'd have to ship up life support systems ourselves. $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Nov 18, 2022 at 15:41
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Helium-3

If we were to gamble on our chances to make working fusion reactors. With enough this stuff we could power world cleanly for very long time. And the bonus of Helium-3 fusion compared to others is that it doesn't produce neutrons which irradiate reactors and destroy the walls.

Most common method of fusion currently is fusing isotopes of hydrogen. Deuterium hydrogen with neutron and tritium hydrogen with two neutrons. Deuterium with tritium producing helium, energy and free neutron. This neutron tends to irradiate things like reactor walls. Weakening them and making them radioactive.

Helium-3 opens two possibilities. Helium-3+Helium-3 reaction producing Helium-4, energy and two protons. Or Helium-3+Deuterium producing Helium-4, energy and two protons. Positive side of those protons is that they can be handled with magnetic containment thus not producing neutron-radiation.

One gram of Helium-3 could produce 164 MWh. With 23845 TWh being total energy consumption of world would require 145.4 tonnes of Helium-3 to cover this for a year. This would require ~1.1 million cubic meters of storage at NTP.

Helium-3 is non-reactive noble gas that does not decay, but the storage might be problem at short notice. It can be pressurised however it can escape this way. Other option is cryogenic compression, but suitable vessels and tanks for that are likely limited in availability or already filled with naturally occurring Helium.

Geological storage, natural gas and other gas storage are likely options if Mage Master Balmelgas were willing to place it there. So world governments would better start to look into empty salt and such mines that can be sealed.

Other option is just to replace part of atmosphere with it. This however will likely generate quite big losses as it will probably escape relatively fast.

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    $\begingroup$ How will you store it? There are approx. 6 weeks to prepare storage facilities for $^3$He. Note the storage will be for 50 years until a practical fusion reactor may be available ... $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 1:05
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    $\begingroup$ Hm, He-3 is stable and nonreactive. The best storage might actually be to simply dump it into the atmosphere.. like changing the air composition to be 1-2% He-3. Extracting that should still be viable. $\endgroup$
    – Chieron
    Nov 19, 2022 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ Like storing any gas. It doesn't have the same issues as hydrogen. So just having big enough pressure vessels if allowed or just simply anything airtight would work. $\endgroup$
    – Ekaros
    Nov 19, 2022 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Chieron Wouldn't it just float up to the top of the atmosphere then be stripped away by solar radiation? Like, isn't that the problem we already have with helium resources on Earth - what little exists in the atmosphere is too high up to extract, so we have to rely on whatever helium got stuck underneath impermeable rock while the Earth was forming? $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2022 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Chieron There's a reason we don't have a lot of helium in the atmosphere despite it being stable. It literally just floats away. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 20, 2022 at 18:23
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Water.

/Delivered material will be beamed directly in containment cells all over the world if such is the request./

Fresh water will be delivered all over the world. Lakes and reservoirs will all be topped up. Dry lake beds and inland depressions (e.g. Lake Eyre, Lake Sahara, Lake Death Valley, Aral Sea) will be converted to lakes. Ice and lots of it will be deposited atop melting glaciers, replenishing and cooling them. Perhaps a few new glaciers might be deposited in interested hot areas, there to gradually melt in a soothing coolth. Depleted underground aquifers around the world will be repleted to preindustrial turgidity.

Farms will be green. Forests will grow. There will be food. There will be energy. There will be soothing coolth. Plants limited by water scarcity will grow and take up excess CO2, cooling the planet back down. Plus Balmelgas Water tastes great! We might need to come up with a different name for it, though.

Yes; water sweet water. One could make a case that the boost to the economy will only last as long as the new water does, which is true. But there is no time period listed in the OP.

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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies The question did specify that we humans are responsible for any containment. $\endgroup$
    – Draconis
    Nov 18, 2022 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen - one time dump. /Techno Mage Master Balmelgas will leave by January the 6th 2023. By then all the required material will be delivered. / $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 18, 2022 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ @DkNguyen - the Earth is already set up to receive a bunch of fresh water. A few tens of trillion tons more of ice on glaciers. A hundred trillion liters in depleted aquifers. The same amount for the Aral sea. There are lots of places on Earth ready to receive some water. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 18, 2022 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Murphy - I agree. Puny megaton. That is why instead of a mere million tons we are requesting several hundred trillion tons total. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 19, 2022 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ @blademan9999 /The extra ice on glaciers isn't going to cool them enough./ I am glad you brought that up in advance of the delivery. I was thinking this might directly counter global warming too. I have been pondering this math but to make that statement you must have already have an idea for it. What temperature / quantity shall we request for the ice delivered in order to cool them but not too much? If there is not enough room to show the math in a comment please edit the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 19, 2022 at 14:53
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Q: "the material must be simple"

Hydrogen

An abundance of molecular hydrogen (H2) would allow humanity to solve fossile fuel shortages and climate issues. Lowering energy prices could make the economy boom.

While burning hydrogen, it is quite easy to collect pure water. This could allow humanity to solve other issues.. opening new markets, extend living space on earth for a growing population.

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    $\begingroup$ You know...until people take it for granted and burn so much of it we start cutting into the oxygen supply. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ Hydrogen is difficult to store long term. It tends to leak through the molecular structure of whatever its container is made of. $\endgroup$
    – Douglas
    Nov 18, 2022 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ The best 'containment vehicle' for storing great quantities of hydrogen is pure water. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond Doing that defeats the purpose of hydrogen though which is as a source of fuel. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ We can't store any where NEAR enough hydrogen to use it as a water supply. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 7:34
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Is all that granted material has to be delivered to earth?

If it doesn't I could suggest to place a bunch of asteroids made of zillion tons of solid rocket fuel into solar system distributed evenly along a single orbit around sun with highest possible excentricity perpendicular to eclipse and passing nearby all the planets' orbits. It would give an opportunity to travel across solar system relatively slow, but spending little-to-no fuel, just sitting on a piece of rock. When travellers want to visit a planet passing by, they just scratch a little portion of fuel for manuevering.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is acceptable. Delivery is not an issue. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ Just mind the costraint of the 3 elements in the question. Remember you would need an oxidizing agent and a reducing agent. Specify more details please. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ "relatively slow, but spending little-to-no fuel, just sitting on a piece of rock" - this doesn't work the way you think! To get onto the rock you have to already match the same orbit as the rock and then you were already going where you want anyway. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you want the orbit perpendicular to the ecliptic (I assume that's what you meant)? Any vessel exploring the solar system will be on the ecliptic. Trying to rendezvous with an object in a perpendicular orbital plane is an extremely costly orbital maneuver - why put the "gas station" in one of the most inconvenient orbital configurations possible? @user253751is correct that riding on the rock accomplishes nothing, if you can land on it, you're already headed exactly where it's going anyway. It is useful for refueling, though. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what economic benefit is this providing? $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Nov 19, 2022 at 16:47
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(Inspired by existing answers)

"Dear Techno Mage Master Balmelgas,

"After much conference and debate, we, the International Commission to Analyze and Request Unlimited Stuff, have come to an agreement with regards to your offer. In exchange for guardianship of any one rose of your choosing, we request a truly immense quantity of very thin aluminum sheets, delivered in the manner dictated below.

"(1) Please place one million, 200km x 200km, aluminum sheets (designs in Appendix A), into an orbit identical to that of our planet. Each sheet should be facing the sun and equidistant from the others, spaced evenly around the sun.

"(2) Additionally, please place one thousand smaller aluminum sheets into orbit at a radius of half that of our planet. (Designs in Appendix B).

"(3) As a final request, please deliver five billion tons of relatively small aluminum bars (dimensions in Appendix C) to the major manufacturing cities of every country on our planet (cities listed in Appendix D).

"Your assistance in providing (1) what we refer to as a 'Dyson Ring,' (2) a relatively centralized means of controlling each reflector with radiation pressure, and (3) an abundance of material with which we can immediately drive our economy, is very much appreciated. As we enjoy our immediate economic boom, we plan to use excess wealth to drive the creation of one thousand 'reorientation' ships, which will fly to each of the smaller mirrors and begin reorienting them as necessary, allowing us to focus radiation pressure on the corners of the larger reflectors and direct, in turn, their reflections. Although it will take time, please accept our gratitude for launching us into the next stage of civilization.

P.S - Enclosed, please see our sample 1m x 1m sheet of aluminum. If necessary for the terms and conditions for your offer, please replace our request for 1 million 200km x 200km sheets with a request for 40 quadrillion 1m x 1m sheets, delivered in squares of 200km by 200km, with the edges touching. Please replace the smaller sheets at 0.5au with an equivalent delivery specification."

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  • $\begingroup$ Not feasible. "a small sample of the material must be provided by World governments so that it can be replicated in the required quantity." Small sample. In any form you like. Of course 'small' is relative and you can say "a small hill". But that is a sophism. A "small sample" is clearly something that a laboratory could work with. The small sample can't be a 200km x 200km aluminum sheet. The Mage is not doing the work for us. Small sheets? as many as you like :) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Duncan A small sample of a mountain of gold is a pebble of gold. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Then you are going to have pebbles of gold. As many as you wish. But not a solid block of gold as big as Mount Everest. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Gotcha. :) I'll add an addendum. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ "replace our request for 1 million 200km x 200km sheets with a request for 40 quadrillion 1m x 1m sheets, delivered in squares of 200km by 200km, with the edges touching. Please replace the smaller sheets at 0.5au with an equivalent delivery specification". Crafty :) In all honesty I don't think such a request could be refused. I have no idea if that is going to work out for you though. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 19:51
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Plutonium

Why? We need energy the most, and plutonium in itself is a pretty stable thing to have around, even with high gamma emission the expected "megaton" would produce. With enough plutonium, nuclear stations would provide enough energy to top off "green" and fossil fuels burn, allowing the humanity to avert energetic crisis for a good thousand years. (Of course nuclear waste processing would be required to handle all the mass of nuclear isotopes produces in power plants, but this is a slightly different story) Also increasing mutation frequency all around the world can eventually benefit humans as a whole, at the cost of innumerable deaths over immeasurable time, yet we already are undergoing induced evolution, so having it slightly accelerated could indeed prove beneficial.

Otherwise...

Currently, the economy is somewhat balanced, and anything provided will tip at least some scales, or can even turn some over. Say, if asked for lithium or rather palladium, the market for such a metal will be ruined, with collapsing production and shockwaves across neighboring markets. And regardless of commodity, eventually this supply would run out, whether it would take a year or a thousand years to exhaust it, it would still be a single fixed influx, thus another upheaval would happen once this supply would be exhausted. Therefore I'd rather have humanity ask for an energy source, that would still eventually run out, but in the process would allow us to do great things that currently are not in our energy budget to perform. For example, obtaining lithium from the ocean - the expected amount of lithium in there is VAST, exceeding a megaton by orders of magnitude, so we only need to filter it out, This mostly required energy, everything else is more of a one-time investment. Lowering energy cost by increasing supply of the most energy-containing fuel known to humanity would thus eliminate the needs of most if not all commodities obtainable from this wizard.

And a weird but still considerable desire (sarcasm)

Request a wizard to provide as much as he possibly can of 235U directly to the planet's core. The pressure down there would compact the uranium into a very supercritical blob that would just blow the planet apart with contained fission energy. No humans means perfect enonomy, huh?

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    $\begingroup$ Would containment be an issue to set up? Lead cells? How much Plutonium can be safely stored? Can you elaborate more? $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ This question ended up having a deep enough rabbit hole to consider changing the answer. Yet, apparently (239)PuO2 can be mass-stored as small enough spheres (1 kg or less) within externally cooled inert gas chambers, and processed afterwards to be converted into fuel cells. Yet its half-life wasn't as great (23000Y) as I expected, so asking for a megaton could be overkill, even if nuclear energy would proliferate on this supply. Storage maintenance would be an issue after some time of course, but initially existing exhausted nuclear storage facilities can be used to store all that Pu. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Nov 18, 2022 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ You have a problem with nuclear power in that only a few nations have access to it (32 countries operate nuclear plants according to Wikipedia), and the reasons more countries don't have access to it is more political than economic or the availability of the fuel. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate: And of those 32 countries, only a few can run Plutonium in their reactors. Most run on Uranium, due to nuclear proliferation concerns. Plutonium is closely associated with nuclear weapons infrastructure. Uranium comes in reactor-grade and weapons-grade; Plutonium is always weapons-grade. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Nov 18, 2022 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ Plutonium is a questionable choice due to it's use in nuclear weapons. Much better would be reactor grade uranium. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 8:21
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Graphene

Graphene is the marvelous dream material from the future which already have a lot of applications. But also have a very big shortcoming: It is very hard to get any sizeable and usable good quality graphene sheet out of the lab (and even in the lab).

Real graphene is currently plagued by:

  • Dislocations
  • Grain boundaries
  • Topological defects
  • Impurities (like a nitrogen, an oxygen or a boron atom in the middle of the carbons)
  • Isotopic impurities (carbon 13 and carbon 14 have a few noticeable differences than carbon 12).
  • Wrinkles
  • Buddings
  • etc.

So, our best graphene labs should join their equipment and forces and work out how to create and provide the best ever graphene sheets that they can and use them as a sample.

Where to dump all the graphene safely?

First, 3 millions of sheets of graphene have a millimeter of thickness.

Plant a 30 meters high pole in the middle of Sahara and ask Techno Mage Master Balmelgas to roll out a sheet of graphene around it until it reaches a radius of 10 km. This would provide us with a high quality graphene tape with a total area of...

$$\begin{align*} \text{total graphene area} &= \frac{\text{volume of cillinder}}{\text{thickness of graphene}} \\ &= \frac{\pi \times \text{height} \times \text{radius}^2}{\text{thickness of graphene}} \\ &= \frac{\pi \times 30 \, \text{m} \times (10 \, \text{km}^2)}{\frac{1 \, \text{mm}}{3,000,000}} \\ &= \pi \times 30 \, \text{m} \times (10 \, \text{km}^2) \times \frac{3,000,000}{1 \, \text{mm}} \\ &= \pi \times 30 \, \text{m} \times (10 \times (10^3 \, \text{m})^2) \times \frac{3 \times 10^6}{10^{-3} \, \text{m}} \\ &= \pi \times 30 \, \text{m} \times (10 \times 10^6 \, \text{m}^2) \times 3 \times 10^6 \times 10^3 \times m^{-1} \\ &= 9\pi \times 10^{17} \, \text{m}^2 \\ &\approx 2,827,433,388,230.81388230814 \, \text{km}^2 \\ \end{align*}$$

This is a HUGE sheet of graphene coiled down in a single pole. In fact, if we were to cover the entire world with graphene, how much of the world we could cover with that much?

$$\begin{align*} \text{coverage} &= \frac{\text{surface area of all that graphene}}{\text{surface area of Earth}} \\ &\approx \frac{2,827,433,388,230,81388230814 \, \text{km}^2}{510,072,000 \, \text{km}^2} \\ &\approx 5,543.2044657044775 \\ &\approx 5,543.2 \end{align*}$$

I.E. It would be enough to cover the entire world with high-quality pure graphene 5,543 times. And that with a single pole as the delivery location!

Still not enough?

No problem! We can also plant billions of other many poles around the world, some might be shorter, some taller, they can be made of wood, iron, plastic, brick, cement, steel... whatever, they are nothing more than the places where the coiling will start. All we need to do is to ask for the great Techno Mage Master Balmelgas to coil all the graphene around them to different radii and different heights specific to each location as desired by each customer.

What about carbon nanotubes?

Doable too, of course. We could get perfect nanotubes with thousands of kilometers in length. But their length and thickness vary a lot depending of the application. Length isn't really an issue, because it is easily solvable just by chopping it, but thickness very much is. Two carbon nanotubes of different thickness have very different applications.

I am unsure if Techno Mage Master Balmelgas would agree with also providing nanotubes of differing thickness. If he is, then that is great! But if he isn't, then ok, we already got the graphene sheets to work out and that is already at least half or three quarters of the hard work needed in order to produce carbon nanotubes of differing thickness.

Also, the delivery of nanotubes should be significantly different. Rolling out a single nanotube around a pole until it forms a disc of several meters thick and several kilometers in radius would make it several light-years long and really hard to unroll other than "let's just chop the entire disc", which would quite defeat the purpose for having a disc that size in the first place. However, the solution to that is simple: just provide a lot of nanotubes rolled to discs a few centimeters in radius around toothpicks instead, which is arguably far simpler.

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    $\begingroup$ Or carbon nanotubes - it is definitely going to be one of these difficult to make carbon structures. You could make a space elevator out of it and then use that to get all the other materials from asteroids. $\endgroup$
    – Felix B.
    Nov 20, 2022 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ @FelixB. I edited the answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2022 at 13:29
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Osmium is the densest naturally occurring element. approximately twice as dense as lead

Osmium is among the rarest elements in the Earth's crust, making up only 50 parts per trillion (ppt).[5][6] It is estimated to be about 0.6 parts per billion in the universe and is therefore the rarest precious metal.[7]

Osmium is a hard but brittle metal that remains lustrous even at high temperatures. It has a very low compressibility. Correspondingly, its bulk modulus is extremely high, reported between 395 and 462 GPa, which rivals that of diamond (443 GPa). The hardness of osmium is moderately high at 4 GPa.[10][11][12] Because of its hardness, brittleness, low vapor pressure (the lowest of the platinum-group metals), and very high melting point (the fourth highest of all elements, after carbon, tungsten, and rhenium), solid osmium is difficult to machine, form, or work.

Only two osmium compounds have major applications: osmium tetroxide for staining tissue in electron microscopy and for the oxidation of alkenes in organic synthesis, and the non-volatile osmates for organic oxidation reactions.

This is the element I'd like to see more of, if only so that we could try to do other things with it besides make fountain pens. It's a super toxic oxidant, and there's not enough to do anything with. Hopefully it won't just be the outer cases for iPhone 27s.


Next, there's rhodium. I think we're all pretty tired of people stealing catalytic converters. But at the same time, this is why you can't just dump junk on the economy, or rather why you wouldn't if you owned mines:

Owners of rhodium—a metal with a highly volatile market price—are periodically put in an extremely advantageous market position: extracting more rhodium-containing ore from the ground will necessarily also extract other much more abundant precious metals—notably platinum and palladium—which would oversupply the market with those other metals, lowering their prices. Since it is economically infeasible to simply extract these other metals just to obtain rhodium, the market is often left hopelessly squeezed for rhodium supply, causing prices to spike.

81% goes into catalytic converters; be neat to see what else a "corrosion-resistant transition metal" can do.

Recovery from this supply-deficit position may be quite problematic in the future for many reasons, notably because it is not known how much rhodium (and other precious metals) actually was placed in catalytic converters during the many years when manufacturers' emissions-cheating software was in use. Much of the world supply of rhodium is obtained from recycled catalytic converters obtained from scrapped vehicles.

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    $\begingroup$ Osmium is not a good choice. It rapidly reacts with oxygen to produce the horrifically toxic gas osmium tetroxide. Merely being in the same room as a large enough sample of osmium without proper protection will land you in the hospital, if it doesn't kill you outright. $\endgroup$
    – Hearth
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Enhancing electron microscopes and organic synthesis is a noble cause, but would it have a relevant impact on the world economy ? The question asks for "the most impact". $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Nov 18, 2022 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ Being rare is not the same thing as being precious. Although osmium would have several very useful industrial, scientific and military applications if it were cheap and plentiful, its shortcomings other than scarcity also plays a major role. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2022 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ "Essentially: carbon, osmium, tantalum, and tungsten, along with rhenium [#3 for my list], are the only (known, stable) elements that have melting points high enough to remain solid at the high temperatures required to achieve the colors of standard incandescent light bulbs." Why can no other chemical elements be used for making a light bulb filament? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Dec 17, 2022 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Only a few compounds of rhenium have been tested for their acute toxicity; two examples are potassium perrhenate and rhenium trichloride, which were injected as a solution into rats. The perrhenate had an LD50 value of 2800 mg/kg after seven days (this is very low toxicity, similar to that of table salt) and the rhenium trichloride showed LD50 of 280 mg/kg." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Dec 17, 2022 at 5:43
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Think really, really big

  1. How about dumping enough mass on mars so it can hold an atmosphere in the long term? At the moment it can not, due to its lack of an iron core which earth has.

  2. How about a smaller star orbiting the solar system. Smaller stars burn slower, so it will be left over once our sun dies. Plus you could build a dyson sphere around it without making our sun darker

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    $\begingroup$ massing up mars is a good idea, downside adding that much mass will make mars uninhabitable for a few million years until it cools down. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 22, 2022 at 23:14
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Actually there's no shortage of any material on Earth. We just sometimes lack in effective technologies to mine, absorb or process it.

If we take solar system, it can provide literally inexhaustible source of any material. Like trillions of tons of natural gas, just laying open on Titan, Saturn's satellite. But its hard to get it. So, if I may guess, we (humanity) will get the most significant economy boost if we get something, providing us an opportunity to travel across space more effectively. I can think of 2 things.

  1. carbon nanotubes. With really huge amount of nanotubes we can build space elevator, using modern technologies. If it passes the "structure" restriction nanotubes will be ultimate choice. If it doesn't then plan B.
  2. Simply Uranium 238. Having enough Uranium the humanity can travel across and colonize solar system. We have already developed and ready to use nuclear drives, even multiple variants of design.

Of course, such an event like a powerful mage giving the humanity an enormous amount of any of these, will immediately start global civil war, because multiple bunches of capitalists all over the world will try to gain exclusive control over such a wealth, none of them even thinking of ordinary people's interests. That has to be taken into account. So, your gift to humanity will 50/50 cause extinction of humanity or Communist revolution.

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    $\begingroup$ Carbon naotubes are acceptable. A sample of the material must nevertheless be provided. That will be replicated in the required quantity. If a 1mm long nanotube sample is provided then 1mm nanotubes is what is going to be given by Balmelgas. Not longer nanotubes. If a 5kg gold ingot is provided, that is what is going to be duplicated. Should I clarify this in question? I thought it was clear. Am not sure if it invalidates some of the answers $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ Please, DO NOT take into account the problems of equally sharing the material / benefits. That is outside the question and already clarified in the question. Let's just assume all governments will behave with enlighted self interest and share benefits equally. Besides, with someone as powerful as Balmelgas around would you risk upsetting him? He may come around again... $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ "Let's just assume all governments will behave with enlighted self interest and share benefits equally". They won't and never did. You, as a writer, definetely should at least provide a good explanation, why this all won't turn into global bloody massacre even before all that surplus material comes to earth. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ Also, do we assume that Balmelga is willing to help humanity for some reason? May be his goal is to provoke such a massacre? For some social experiment or whatever? $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ that is OUTSIDE this question though. Just don't worry about it for the reply :) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2022 at 9:11
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Water, but in space.

I love the ideas people are submitting about delivering something to space, which would really kickstart anything humanity might want to do in terms of building out a space program, but my proposal is "water". In space.

Water is very heavy. We need lots of it for any space programs. It's useful as radiation shielding too so if you can design your space ship to carry lots of water in tanks around the hull then you get the water you need for the trip plus radiation shielding all in one. But water being heavy means it's very expensive to bring up from earth.

Contract out some scientists to figure out if containment is needed and, if so, how, but I shouldn't think we need expensive containment (some flimsy solar shield maybe...or maybe it's better to just plop it all down on the moon as ice).

My thinking is that "space mining" can give us minerals we need, but lots of things (including generation of hydrogen for fuel, and oxygen) would be easy if we could start out with a big pile of water, either in orbit or readily available on the lunar surface. (We should be able to "mine water" in space but I think it's still a bit up in the air on how easy this will be. My understanding is that anything in the inner solar system has already had its water blasted away, unless it's buried. There is water on the moon, but getting it won't be as easy as just having a huge mountain of ice sitting there ready to go).

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  • $\begingroup$ Water is not that heavy. Most metals are heavier. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ You should also drop a hundred quadrillion tons or so on mars. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann My thinking is we can probably mine building materials in space. But water is oxygen, hydrogen (fuel/energy) and radiation shielding all in one and NASA seems a little dubious still about our ability to get large amounts of it in the inner solar system, short of launching it from Earth. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Nov 20, 2022 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @blademan9999 that is interesting... what would happen? Mars would still be without a magnetic field. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake I have read before that terraforming Mars would work fine if we could do it, despite the lack of magnetic field. The sun blows away the Martian atmosphere but it's such a slow process that if we could give it an atmosphere, it would take millions of years to blow it away. Top it off every couple hundred thousand years and it'll work out fine! Surface radiation might still be a problem, but it'll have at atmosphere at least. I bet covering it in enough water would be quite a lot of the terraforming needed. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Nov 21, 2022 at 14:29
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Sand

Really a lot of pure Quartz sand (SiO$_2$) to be delivered to fragile coastal lines all over the planet, maybe also piled to new islands off-shore, and some large stashes of sand for use in construction in the hinterland.

There is already a shortage of good sand and thieves are stealing strands to use the sand for construction. So having an abundance of sand will be a good thing to the economy.

P.S. Realistic politicians will probably demand for some kind of fossile energy, with methane being to hard to contain, maybe some fluid like pure Octane or even something just solid like pure stearin. This will have positive short term effect (dampening inflation and making production of a lot of goods easier) but is bad in the long-term: More climate gasses, more greenhouse effect, and a deleterious effect on renewable energies). Sigh.

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On December the 21st 2022 Specifically: Fertilizer

Industrial fertilizer is a mixture of nitrate (NH3), potassium chloride (KCl), and Potash (P2O5) which on average doubles food output per acre. The problem is that you need enough of all 3 of these elements to get a noticeable benefit and the trade embargos and cut-off supply lines caused by the Russian/Ukraine war have cut off many parts of the world from getting enough Potash and Nitrate.

Economists are predicting the following chain of evens in the next year or two as a result:

In many places in the world there will not be enough industrial fertilizer to sustain food production at the needed levels in 2023 which is estimated will lead to about a 25% reduction in global food production in the follow year. Because of how necessary food is for survival, markets will compete aggressively to import enough food and fertilizer for basic survival. The prices of agricultural products will increase several fold and drive down disposable income and demand for other goods and services causing many businesses less necessary for basic survival to collapse... which will lead to mass poverty and even bigger problems allocating food to the people who need it to survive. As a result, millions of people will starve to death, and the damage to the world GDP both short term and long term could be massive.

.. the 3 element limit seems like a big problem here, but one that can be solved through cleaver chemistry. Most of the world is still getting enough potassium chloride production; so, we can limit the problem to focusing on nitrate and Potash. While we can not request more than 3 elements, we could request a mixture of Nitrate(NH3) and White Phosphorous(P4). We would have to have Balmelgas deposit this mixture into refrigerated rooms to keep it from exploding, but you could then separate the White Phosphorous from the Nitrate, and then burn the White Phosphorous. The result of burning the Phosphorous is P2O5 which can then be recombined with the Nitrates and Potassium Chloride which you already have plenty of to make fertilizer.

Then the expected food crisis of 2023 could be mostly averted. Literally millions of lives and jobs would be saved, and the global economy would have enough time to establish new fertilizer production facilities in new places to be able to meet the world's long term needs.

Whether or not this will yield the most dollar signs out of any possible substance is debatable, but I can guarantee that this is the one substance most world leaders will be able to agree is a top priority at this particular date.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you'll find that any real-life N-P-K fertilizer needs to have some oxygen, probably some carbon, and maybe some alkaline earths. This would violate the limit to 3 elements. Elemental phosphorus is particularly problematic. $\endgroup$
    – Theodore
    Nov 18, 2022 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Theodore Ah, you are right, I totally brain farted and forgot that those are in fact Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus based compounds, revised my answer accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 18, 2022 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ Scientifically, I think that fertilizer is the most common material in the atmosphere N2, the problem is trying to force it into the ground without NPK balance will not work, it will leach into the rivers, the fish will die, the lakes will bloom red and atrophy, the seashores will have huge freak marine growths, but yoru idea is super original other than that. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process this is a solved problem. I don't see how this would make an impact except for lower the price a tiny bit $\endgroup$
    – Felix B.
    Nov 20, 2022 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @FelixB. The issue the world faces right now is a logistics issue, not a technological one. The natural resources exist to fill the world's fertilizer deficit, but with supply lines being cut by the war, mean that it will take several years to build the new infrastructure to do so, but we need the fertilizer crisis to be solved in the next few months to stop the subsequent food shortages. The key here is "Delivered material will be beamed directly in containment cells all over the world if such is the request." $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 21, 2022 at 18:58
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Put some Rocks in the Oceans!

Adding limestone land islands 10 times the size of Indonesia would do more for the planet than limitless energy. To do this, the magician has to change the protons and neutrons into different elements, rather than magically appear stuff through teleportation which is a bit low-tech for nursery books.

Land is a scarce commodity on the planet, forests are being decimated for food, animals are threatened by agriculture, humans are born without land and work all their lives to rent it. So magic 350 islands in the Atlantic and Pacific with 750 million cubic kilometers of basalt rock. We can add a land area the size of Africa to the ocean and use it to send the vices of humanity to a new place.

The condition to that is that the volume of water displaced is swapped or taken to the moon/mars and a new moon is created for mars to restart it's inner magnetic force.

Specifically which rock type, I dunno, perhaps porous limestone. Basalt is many chemicals. either way, adding a land area the size of Africa would do more for the planet than limitless energy.

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  • $\begingroup$ No structures are allowed. What you will have is large dumps of the chosen material in the ocean. Displaced water is not going to be teleported anywhere, not part of the offer. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ The addition of the material could happen over several days, so no big tsunami waves. But sea level is going to raise. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ All this would do is transfer environmental destruction to the oceans and coastal and tidal parts of the world, along with destroying the climate of most of it. If you want to save the world, "magical continent appears!" is the exact opposite of helpful. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Nov 19, 2022 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ @LifeInTheTrees "...and the oceans actually have less biological life than the lands..." - Well, what kind of life is non-biological? However, this is the exact site where such things might be considered... $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ I wrote biomass and then changed the wording:) $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2022 at 23:41
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Platinum

Platinum isn't just a precious metal. It's extremely valuable as a catalyst for many oxidation/reduction reactions, and is highly treasured as the least reactive metal in existence.

Platinum is why people keep stealing catalytic converters. The lack of platinum catalysts is a limitation that prevents us from using fuel cell technology to replace batteries. There's a lot of research right now on how to decrease the amount of platinum required by a fuel cell, simply because it's the cost-driving factor for that technology.

A sudden, wide-spread, massive dump of platinum would obviously cause the collapse of platinum prices, but there isn't a huge market for it to go bust due to its rarity. It would result in a massive boom in energy storage businesses, and allow the creation of cleaner power generation, and reduced energy costs. It would become the plating of preference for almost everything that you wanted to last a long time, especially lab equipment.

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Oil

People are making very complicated answers involving space travel, advanced materials, and all sorts of things. But, there is something that is massively traded worldwide. There's something that caused wars worldwide. Oil.

You'd have to negotiate what range of chain lengths of hydrocarbon they will provide, but this is the most important resource. Our demand for goods based on oil is near infinite- plastics, fuels, medicines, drugs- and limited by price and supply.

The Ukraine war happened because Russia wanted Crimean gas. Many middle east conflicts have been over oil. If you have a basically infinite supply you can use it efficiently to produce huge amounts of goods and energy and valuable things. There are several reasons why it's the best commodity.

  1. Oil is the most traded commodity.
  2. It has a vast array of uses.
  3. It drives inflation and weaknesses in economies.
  4. We can stop global warming with enough energy to capture carbon.

So yes, this is the most valuable commodity to ask for. Energy is what makes a civilization great, and oil is the most convenient chemical. If they demand one molecule, just ask for something like pentatriacontane. That can easily be cracked into whatever is needed.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The Ukraine war happened because Russia wanted Crimean gas." - this is profoundly wrong. Russia wanted to secure its naval base at Sebastopol and its shrinking sphere of influence. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2022 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2019/02/28/… wanting their gas is a widely commented on issue, especially since they ". When Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014, they seized subsidiaries of Ukraine’s state energy conglomerate Naftogaz operating in the Black Sea. The Kremlin appropriated these companies — and billions of dollars of equipment — and delivered them to Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant. In one fell swoop, Russia ended Ukraine’s offshore oil and gas operations and bolstered its own." $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Nov 25, 2022 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Still, this is a side effect and not the underlying reason of war that is about spheres of influence. More on spheres of influence can be found in Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (published in 1996) $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2022 at 13:30
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Food or Clean Water

You guys are suggesting a lot of gold or steel, but it would be just better for humanity in general to get plenty of food or clean water.

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  • $\begingroup$ "the material must be simple. It can be a metal, a molecule, a polymer but no more that 3 elements in it. E.g. the molecule of Methane CH4 or Glucose C6H12O6 are admitted. Ammonium acetate NH4CH3CO2 is not." So food is out. Not to mention food rots so a massive store of it wouldn't do too much good for too long. Clean freshwater is possible but I'm guessing the places that need it most aren't going to be able to come up with a way to store enough of it in time. A massive glacier of fresh water does you little good if you're in a poor, drought ridden area. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ And you can't ask for a massive glacier to be dropped right next door either because according to the question a small sample needs to be provided and that sample is what will be duplicated. Since we can't provide an entire glacier as a sample, it would be more like a sample of ice and in that case you need to be careful you don't suddenly dump a mountain-sized mound of avalanching ice or sudden snow into an area that can handle neither. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 18, 2022 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, it would have to be a limitless fountain (which is explicitly ruled out in the OP) to do any real good. Food or water resulting in short term human expansion is going to cause even more problems when it runs out. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Nov 18, 2022 at 20:42
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Tell Techno Mage Master Balmelgas to take a hike!

This is a Frame Challenge.

Introducing an abundance of any material whatsoever that could prove useful to either the environment or any form of industry or exchange would be devastating to the world economy. Whatever material you choose, there is a massive industrial complex behind it's acquisition, processing, distribution, use in manufacturing, more distribution, sales, consumption, and disposal. Providing an abundance turns all of that on it's proverbial ear.

Do you remember the movie Chain Reaction? The usual group of naive but well-intentioned scientists1 build a technobabble-based free energy machine that they're ready to release to the world and the just as usual government Big Brother interference is trying to control and/or stop it. But the movie makes a very real and very good point. What happens when you dump too much of a resource onto the planet?

Markets crash. Nations collapse. People suffer.2

Nature, including Humanity and all its raucous complexity and juvenile beliefs, is a struggle for balance

And what too many people don't understand is that it's the struggle that's important, not the balance. Nature hates a balance just as it hates the proverbial vacuum.3 Balances are bad because of entropy. If you stop pushing forward, "the universe" starts pushing you backward. Insofar as Humanity knows, there is no such thing (material, philosophy, whatever) that won't decay over time (entropy), and that means struggle... or die.

I can literally think of nothing Balmelgas could give us that would be a significant benefit that wouldn't be devastating. Maybe the cure to one minor disease. Maybe a box of snicker doodles.4 Whatever it is, the gift must be (must be) inconsequential in the "Grand Scheme" of things or it will hurt rather than help.5

So... thanks, Balmelgas. Here's the rose. Nice smell, are we right? There's the door. Don't let it hit you on the way out.


1Hollywood makes it seem like scientists and engineers can't understand economics. But as they say, the plot must go on.

2And zombies. There's always zombies. Hollywood has convinced me that it doesn't matter what the cause is, the result is always zombies. I'm just sayin'... zombies.

3RIP Leonard Nimoy.

4OK, maybe resurrecting Karen Carpenter. One of the most beautiful and talented singers to grace Earth. That wouldn't crash civilization — but it should.

5To all you believers in Utopia and Post-Scarcity Civilizations... yeah. They can't exist. Not won't. Can't. It isn't simply the lack of a decision on Humanity's part or that we simply haven't earned enough wisdom yet. If that doesn't make sense, all I can say is you need another 10-15 years of life experience before you realize those are great Hollywood story foundations — and the worst possible prisons Humanity could force itself into. When the Wachowskis mentioned in The Matrix movies that humanity rejected perfection... that wasn't whimsical. That was insightful and based on thinking the issue through.

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    $\begingroup$ This is where I think the "in space" answers are all an improvement. Putting a million tons of steel or titanium (or water) or whatnot into space means that any effort to go use it will have to involve an extensive, new space program. And bringing it down probably makes no sense -- you'd spend more landing and recovering most things than you'd earn using it. And building with it, in space, would be a wholly new industry, unlikely to compete with domestic uses. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Nov 18, 2022 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB Possibly, by my sense of economics says it's not enough. The cost of pushing it into a decaying orbit with a predicted touch down and living with the burn-off and destruction that would cause is still almost infinitely less than the abundance. If the abundance is less than that, what's the point? Can you imagine what might happen if Big B changed Mars to host a breathable atmosphere and walked away? It's nice to think humanity would join together, sing a song, and use the planet wisely. The truth is it would start arms races and wars. Who controls the abundance? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 18, 2022 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ My thinking is most things would be sufficiently destroyed by deorbiting them that you'd ruin the value (e.g. steel really has a low value per ton. Deorbiting enough to pay for the launch and effort would probably flatten some country and cause a nuclear winter.) Deorbiting water would be fairly pointless. Deorbiting gold would be worth it! So let's not ask for that. Water, though. Deorbiting it would be pointless, but its use in space for oxygen, fuel and actual water would be unprecedented value -- a kickstarter for a new industry (in space). $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Nov 18, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Utopia is a relative term. Some ancient people's might call how you're living utopic. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Nov 19, 2022 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend There are people living on the Earth today who might call my lifestyle utopic. But the folks who ask questions about achieving utopia on this Stack don't embrace that point of view. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 19, 2022 at 17:13
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Petroleum

Due to its high demand, Earth may get it. Sure, there may be problems with the oil companies, but hey, at least it will calm down those who freak out about running out.

Depending on its effect, it may even help make petroleum cheaper. If you are not looking for oil, then there is:

Copper (or at least metals used in digital electronics

Many of the metals used in our technology are either rare, come from dangerous mines, or both. If the aliens helped bring in these metals, we would have more access to the technology, maybe it might even cheapen. While of course, there will be problems with corporations and their own agenda, but for now, these are some simple ideas and solutions.

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Trick question

NOTHING

Due to the laws of supply and demand, the more of something there are the more people can have that thing, thus demand goes down and so does the value of that thing.

It's why the Global Diamond market limits how many diamonds there are on the market (despite the fact that diamonds can be made in a lab fairly easily), it's to keep the demand (and thus, the price) up.

So, if we were to add a large amount of any material or resource, it would crash the global economy, not help it.

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  • $\begingroup$ How about a material that is so scarce that there is no economy around it and yet so potentially useful? $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake depends on the resource and potential use, Antimatter is impossible to contain or even use in a controlled manner yet the potential market (mostly in the Aerospace, energy, and bomb-making parts of the economy) value is incredibly high. Usually, a material is rare because material physics deems it to be rare $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 16:25
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Orthorhombic C8

A superstrong not-super-lubricious metastable carbon allotrope

Perfect long-fiber carbon nanotubes (in teratonne quantities, in orbit) might seem like a wonderful construction material, but a deep dive into the experimental literature shows why CNT are superstrong, but useless - defect-free carbon nanotubes are "superlubricious", practically zero friction. There's no way to attach to perfect nanotubes, and imperfect nanotubes aren't much stronger than Dyneema and similar engineering fibers.

I recall a research paper about the construction of two perfect centimeter-long carbon nanotubes, a thinner tube nested inside a fatter tube - temporarily. Since the tubes are practically frictionless, gravity is enough to slide the inner tube out of the outer tube.

Lattice defects on the tubes will stick to other lattice defects, but are also stress risers, weakening the tubes. AFAIK, we will never build space elevators and similar magic structures with carbon nanotubes.

Computational atomic modelling to the rescue ... sorta. While we don't know how to actually make the stuff, physicists have computer simulated a dense carbon crystalline material named "C-Centered Orthorhombic C8", which comes close to carbon nanotubes in strength, but has a repeating 3D structure.

The problem is that, though theoretically stable, the only way to form it is with pressures that can only be achieved with materials stronger than Cco-C8. Or ultrahigh energy densities and luck. Or magic.

We could make 3D macroscopic structures with Cco-C8 - including attachment rings. Start with a large crystal of Cco-C8, use an oxygen torch to carve out the finished product or device. Subtractive processes, only Balmelgas has the additive magic which makes the material.

So, how do we make a tiny tiny sample?

Ultrahigh energy densities and luck - perhaps a hydrogen bomb blast in a carbon-lined cavern, followed by a LOT of molecular sorting to find a microscopic chunk of Cco-C8 (among a zillion other carbon chunks) to give to Techno Mage Master Balmelgas. However, with luck, we might achieve a similar microchunk with a LOT of shock tube chemistry ... and LOT of luck.

So, thousands of apparatus makers (the A team) build shock tubes QUICKLY, while the B team lines a cavern with carbon and sets off a low-fallout neutron bomb in it. The rest of us are organized into microscope-wielding search teams to look at trillions of shock-compressed particles to find some lucky C8 particles. WORK QUICKLY, time's a wasting!

We deliver our tiny crystal to Techno Mage Master Balmelgas, and say "please make a 0.02-Moon-scale crystal of this stuff, and park it at Earth-Moon L5." A vastly larger crystal could be parked at Sun-Jupiter L5, but round-trip time to Earth would be long, and the escape velocity from such a large carbon crystal would be daunting.


Of course, in Real (fantasy) Life, most of the people of Earth would vote for an ocean of ethanol (harder drugs require nitrogen in addition to CHO). Devout Muslims would vote against that, nuclear war would erupt over the decision, and we would all die.

Or, after all the effort and conflict, Balmelgas will say "just kidding".


Novel Superhard Carbon: C-Centered Orthorhombic C8 Zhisheng Zhao, Bo Xu, Xiang-Feng Zhou, Li-Min Wang, Bin Wen, Julong He, Zhongyuan Liu, Hui-Tian Wang, and Yongjun Tian Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 215502 – Published 14 November 2011 https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.107.215502

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Lithium-6

What's better than Lithium? Lithium-6! Lithium naturally occurs as 99% Li-7 and less than 1% Li-6. As a result, Li-6 has 14% higher energy storage density (by weight) than lithium as we know it.

If received in megatonnes of elemental Li, you effectively get a load of energy for free too, as it arrives processed and 'charged'. But make sure you don't deplete the atmosphere of oxygen.

Li-6 hydride or Li-6BH4

14% better than lithium? Rookie! Lets add loads of stored hydrogen with some wickedly exothermic release reactions. Hydrogen and heat both more or less pour out of this stuff. "Just add water". There are a million and one detailed hydrogen economy proposals based on either LiH or LiBH4. The main problem is that they never solve the problem of how to make the hydrides. Problem solved by this mage guy. LiBH4 is the densest energy storage material known to man; it just got 10% better by weight. It's also a very expensive but very useful chemical synthesis reagent.

Li-6 fusion fuels

It gets better, though, because Li-6 is suitable as fusion fuel.

Get it either as Li-6-O-H-3 (Lithium-6 tritium oxide, fusion superfuel), or Li-6H-2H-3 (Lithium deuteride / lithium tritide mix).

Choosing a form

If received in the elemental form, you get one immediate GDP boost (free energy/processed material), one medium term GDP boost (reusable energy storage material 14% better than we have now), and one long term boost (fusion fuel).

If received as the tritium oxide, the fusion future arrives decades sooner but the short term boost is smaller.

If received as the hydride or deuteride-tritide, you possibly get the best of both worlds.

Other alternatives to pure Li-6 include an unstable alloy with another element like iron and/or copper or rare earths (so you can easily process it to get all those elements), or Li-6 with He-3 bubbles.

My personal favourite: On balance, the lithium deuteride / tritide, with LiBH4 in second place.

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Metallic Hydrogen

  • Probably Room-temperature Superconductor (say hello to magnetically levitating everything without energy losses)
  • Perfect Rocket fuel
  • might not be metastable (i.e. not storable in which case this idea dies)
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  • $\begingroup$ May you add details? $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2022 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ Explodes violently at any pressure you can achieve on earth... $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 22, 2022 at 23:10

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