On a daily basis, we interact with hundreds or thousands of materials that range in complexity from the water we drink to the OLED screens on our smartphones. The development of new materials can be linked to nearly every major advance in human history, and breakthroughs made by material scientists have profoundly affected our society and daily lives — from transportation to how we receive information.
Some of the most expensive materials on this list are naturally occurring, while others, such as two-dimensional materials, have been developed in laboratories and are on the cutting edge of scientific progress.
Human epochs are defined by the materials that enabled advancement, “First the Stone Age, then bronze, then iron, then steel, then plastics, and now we’re firmly in the semiconductor age,” said Alex Kozen, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. “I expect the next great advance in materials to be biological materials,” where genetic engineering could be used to create organisms that provide better nutrition, grow structural materials and much more.
The following is a list of some of the most expensive materials used today in manufacturing, tech products, research, and other applications. They include precious metals, compounds, rare earth elements, and ultra-thin two-dimensional materials.
The cost of different materials is determined by several factors, including supply and demand, mining costs, raw materials costs, how rare or abundant a material is, purity of the material, engineering costs — whether it is a complex material to produce — among many other factors. The materials on this list are not meant to represent a complete list of every expensive material. The materials on our list were selected in part because they are used commonly in industry and research.
To compile our list, we used various scientific journals, the Defense Logistics Agency’s list of Strategic Materials, the USGS’s Mineral Commodities Summary 2019, and prices were estimated from various suppliers’ websites.