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I'm writing a book set in a zombie apocalypse. It has been under this apocalypse so 50 years. Iron is one of the zombies' only weaknesses. Iron mining techniques at the time of the start of the apocalypse were similar to medieval iron mining techniques. The apocalypse has meant that no one is currently mining for iron (people prioritize surviving over mining) meaning that iron and its alloys are incredibly expensive. In this situation, what metals could the survivors use to substitute iron (used for tools, building, weaponry, transport etc.) instead of iron and iron alloys?

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closed as too broad by Aify, Vincent, Brythan, Thucydides, bilbo_pingouin Jul 18 '16 at 7:02

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ gold, bronze, plumbum $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 1 '16 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Even if zombies have taken over, the factories can be guarded. We know nothing about your world - how many people remain,what are the zombies like,how long has it been since zombies have taken over etc. $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jul 1 '16 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Matthew Cockram. I edited your question slightly to make the title slightly less verbose, while doing my best to stay true to your intent. If you feel my edit changed your intent, then feel free to roll back or (better yet) edit further. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 1 '16 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ That said, I think this question as current posed is overly broad. "Similar properties" for what purpose? Hardness, melting temperature, change in properties when weakened by high temperature, strength, oxidation, ... -- there are a number of possible properties that could make for relevant points of comparison. We can suggest alternatives and outline how they are similar and different, but doing so would be far easier (and more likely to yield answers that you find useful) if you can tell us what aspects you are most interested in answers focusing on. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 1 '16 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ If you could tell us why iron is their weakness then we would know which traits are most essential in this substuitional metal. $\endgroup$ – Aarthew III Jul 1 '16 at 17:23
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Probably the same metals we use every day other than iron. In other words, most of the natural periodic table (and even some trans-uranic elements)

Nickel, Cobalt and Chromium are quite similar to iron in many ways.

Aluminum is commonly used where lightness is an advantage.

You can find advantages to many other metals.

Iron would still be missed, the combination of abundance (cheap) and high-strength is the reason is it the preferred construction material in so many cases.

Biological iron could be a real problem in your world. Hemoglobin would not be possible, another compound cytochrome P-450 requires iron and is necessary in a variety of biologic functions.

Ruthenium would seem to be the natural choice as it is simply one row down on the period table, but it is far too rare to be a useful substitute in most cases. Only 20 tons of Rh are produced each year, mostly as a by production of platinum mining.

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  • $\begingroup$ Animals reliant on haemoglobin survived for millions of years before mines were invented. $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis May 31 '18 at 3:10
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Alternatives: titanium, bronze, brass, carbon (as polymers, carbon fibre, graphene, CNT), silicon (as polymers, glass), tungsten, aluminium, copper, ceramics. All of them have advantages and disadvantages over iron alloys. Most of the above are costlier than iron alloys because of the cost of production or scarcity in the real world. But in your world iron is rare so they are good to go. Some of them are more brittle than iron (tungsten, ceramics, glass etc.) Some are softer (titanium, polymers, aluminium etc.) So they will replace iron in your world. They will be used according to their properties and as not a single one of them can replace iron completely, people will use all of them in conjunction.

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Iron is an extremely common element; once humans know how to refine it from ore, it is going to be quite difficult for another species to really monopolise it. Doubly so for zombies, if they are the stereotypical kind of zombies that cannot plan anything in advance.

If the apocalypse is so bad that we actually lose the technology for refining iron from ore, I suppose that we still can resort to scrapyards; there should be a lot of iron and other useful metals there.

The only magnetic metals besides iron are nickel and cobalt, and I would fear that if we lose access to iron, we would with even more reason lose access to nickel and cobalt.

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I think your plot idea is inconsistent, as it stands. One of the most common elements in the earth has become extremely rare (how?) so mining everywhere has stopped (why?). And as said above, if mining iron ore isn't possible how on earth will they mine metals rarer than iron? Anything mining rarer metal ores has a pretty good chance of turning up iron ore too.

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  • $\begingroup$ The reason they aren't mining any kind of metal is that everyone is trying not to die and so don't have time to mine. The reason that iron s more rare than other metals that would normally be more rare is that all the iron is being used to fend off zombies as it is one of the zombies only weaknesses, leaving only other metals for regular day-to-day use $\endgroup$ – Matthew Cockram Jul 2 '16 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ You're really underestimating the amount of iron we're talking about. Iron is about 0.5 - 5% of most of the earth's soil and surface materials, we extract a couple or so billion tons a year of it industrially - whatever the zombie problem, you might want to imagine "we used up all the sand worldwide treating zombies and that's why it's rare" - iron is far more plentiful. "All the iron is being used" just doesn't work, not a chance. $\endgroup$ – Stilez Jul 2 '16 at 19:16

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