Monday, January 5, 2009

Trash and Treasure

This man works at a steel mill in Birmingham Alabama. An arc furnace with two carbon electrodes the size of telephone poles sends bolts of hot lightning through pieces of old cars and refrigerators until you can pour amalgamated metal into giant tile-lined crucibles hanging from moving tracks three stories above. After they dump the molten slug into the cooling chamber, this guy rheems out the bucket for the next round. I was wearing an insulated suit just to be this close to the dude. His job is somewhat manly.

Yesterday, my Dad was telling me about mercury settling and gold processing the old-fashioned way. We do a lot for metal, as this month's NG Magazine describes. I dug out some notes from a geology class, and read about prospectors who used to boil off the mercury/gold slurry in giant open cauldrons while standing in the fumes to stir it with a stick. In Birmingham, they're just stretching those melted cars out into some spaghetti re-bar to reinforce your average overpass or skyscraper. That company is the state's number one recycler. This summer, chinese imports drove scrap prices so high that we junked an old wrecked chevy van for almost $700. With gas high, that's more than you could sell it for if it were galloping flawlessly down the road.
Drive on.

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