Would Real Life Alchemy Be Profitable?

September 4, 2012 in Editorial


Money may not grow on trees, but to the medieval it could be made through dark sorcery. Henry IV of England banned alchemy, Pope John XII forbade the ‘lies’ of transmutation, and Dante found a special place in hell for the alchemist.

For those who are unaware, we are talking about the mythological turning of a common metal into one of more value.

If it did actually work, of course, then an alchemist could make themself incredibly wealthy very quickly. Alchemy is typically considered to be the transmutation of lead into gold. Taking some current prices of these two metals, the profit on one ounce’s conversion from lead to gold is $1588.13.

Now if you ask a chemist’s opinion, they will tell you that because lead is a bigger atom than gold, you’ll get some lithium made as well as a by-product. Just so you know.

Lead → Gold + Lithium

It looks like the creation of just a few ounces of gold could keep someone comfortable for quite a long time. And conversion of a kilogram of lead would mean a staggering profit of $44,994,291.03

Which is all well and good, so long as no-one knows that there is an alchemist.


Because the high price of gold comes from its being a rare earth metal. It is uncommon, hence the cost. Like platinum or silver, its value is in being hard to find.

But there used to be another precious metal.

Prior to 1886, aluminium was one of the world’s most expensive metals, more so than gold. This was due to the extremely expensive and time consuming process of removing aluminium from its ore. Then, in 1886, the Hall-Heroult process meant that aluminium was suddenly very cheap to produce. The price plummeted. Aluminium is still valuable as it is used in manufacture, but costs far less than it used to.

So what if alchemy was discovered, and everyone knew that gold was easy to produce? Then surely the price of gold would plummet, like aluminium’s did. Gold would still be useful in manufacture, as aluminium is, but after alchemy neither would be valuable as rare metals.

If alchemy became widespread, then let’s assume that the price of gold would become similar to that of aluminium. Would turning lead into gold still be profitable if gold had the same market value as aluminium?

Well, not really. Lead and aluminium actually have very similar prices, so alchemy would only be a bit profitable sometimes as the market values of the metals fluctuated.

At the time of writing, conversion of lead to gold (at aluminium price) would lead to a small loss; less than a cent per ounce, but a loss nonetheless.

Except, remember the lithium?

 Lead → Gold + Lithium

Lithium is used in chemical laboratories, and if it’s pure, is actually reasonably expensive, at $4.39 per gram. From the transmutation of ten ounces of lead, this would mean $42.10 worth of lithium would be produced. Quite a tidy profit.

So if alchemy was well known then it could make a small profit and help further modern science. If alchemy is not well known, then it can make a huge profit for the individual.

In numbers? Profit for transmutation of one ounce of lead is $1588.13 if done in secret, or $4.21 if the knowledge of alchemy becomes known.

So don’t ever expect to hear about someone’s alchemy in the news.

N.B. If anyone is interested in the chemistry, or rather chemical assumptions and workings out involved in this article, please email me at sean.goodwin@centives.net.


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