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In the space opera concept story I'm working on, the underdog faction develops/discovers several technologies and resources that help them turn the tide against the enemy. One of these discoveries is a "living" metal (I was gonna call it "Animite" but googling it, the name has been used for to many fantasy metals already - new name suggestions will be appreciated). While not being sapient, or even sentient, it does self repair by consuming other elements by contact. So cutting a slab in half, and feeding the two halves will eventually produce two wholes. While the replication process is far from fast, it does give vehicles in the field the ability to self repair with minimal equipment and resources, as well as supply a near infinite supply of usable metal.

Note: To keep the armour plates made of Animite from consuming the vehicle the plates are coated with a protective layer. When repairing a neutral foam is first injected into the hole to prevent the newly grown metal from making contact with the vehicle.

How could I make this plausible without too much hand wave? Maybe a symbiotic type of bacteria?

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  • $\begingroup$ There are already bacteria that can secrete metal sulphate solution if they are feeding on an area containing that kind of metals ore. That could be a base to start from. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Oct 30 '16 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ no need in such living thing, all you need is same material from this answer starting from Note about Venus scrap, snake elephant - just on smaller scale. Eventually this are just CNT's, carbon based material and it will do all you have described, without problems as eating something which have to be not eaten. It is just software driven shapes and forms. computing units also made from carbon(mostly). So there no need to make ridiculous fantasies which may or may not to be plausible, when we almost have such a thing. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Oct 30 '16 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Also how about vitaeum or vitaete? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Oct 30 '16 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Bellerophon having full control over consuming stuff is way much cooler, way more actions are possible. At least for hard scifi - it is cool when you know how it works, why it works, what you can do with it. And it is more realistic then just inventing a thing over which you barely have any control, which works in some magical fashion for some magical reason. I do not believe in that just because it hardly can be some random discovery, it have to be designed - so for creator a control is just part of design - and that is more real. People like different things, so I do not judge. just option. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Oct 30 '16 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Fortunately I'm not going hard science with this one, so I'll accelerate the rate and cost of conversion. Just enough for it to be believable is fine for me. The living metal is only the raw resource. My plan is that as the story progresses it will be enhanced with nanotech and other technologies, and will eventually evolve to a state where a handful of skilled pilots using a neural interface will experience it as one would their own skin - increasing combat awareness at the cost of feeling the pain inflicted on their vehicles. Far fetched but I love the idea. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Oct 31 '16 at 12:31
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The process of bioleaching is already used to extract metals from ore. Essentially the bacteria dissolve the metal then secrete it un a solutin. the metal can be gained from this by purification.

For your scenario we need to change this slightly. First we need to have two bacterial, one extracts metal from the ingredients it is 'fed' and the other purifies the solution. Alternatively the solution could react with something in the air causing the metal to precipitate out. Now our main problem is the fact that these bacteria can only get metal from something with an existing content of the metal. One option is to say this metal exists in small trace quantities as a compound with one of the rarer earth gases. Xenon maybe. The metal is in too low quantities to be noticeable in air but when the air is absorbed by plants and animals the metal compound is also absorbed. It then slowly builds up harmlessly inside the plant/animal. This means that when our metal is damaged our bacteria can get to work extracting the metal from any surrounding plant or animal matter including wooden furniture, wool or cotten clothing, leather upholstery, human skin etc. Of course this process will take a while and a lot of material. A 1cm^2 hole would probably take 2 hours to repair at the fastest and likely more. It would also probably take maybe 100 times more material going in than you get out.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is pretty much what I was thinking of. Scrap from destroyed vehicles could be tac welded to the damaged area, and over time it can be consumed and replaced by the viteaum (Love the name thanks!). $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Oct 31 '16 at 5:24
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Since their introduction in fiction and not, nanomachines have been kinda like the "wizard did it" solution, they could do what you need, but I admit that the simil-bacteria idea is an interesting one.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly why i wanted to shy away from nanomachines. I am planning on adding them later on to accelerate the repair rate though. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Oct 31 '16 at 5:21

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