The Two-Way
10:06 am
Thu January 10, 2013

What Does $1 Trillion Worth Of Platinum Look Like?

OK, OK. We know that you don't actually need $1 trillion worth of platinum to make this debt-defying coin.

But just for the sake of some financial fun, how much platinum would you actually need to mint a coin that contains a trillion dollars worth of platinum?

Turns out, it's probably more than mankind has available on the market right now.

Before we do the math, we need to be sure we're on the same page about what a trillion is. In many countries, a trillion is one million million million, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.

But here in the U.S., it's just a million million, or 1,000,000,000,000. So let's go with that.

If you log on to your favorite precious metal website, you can pick up some platinum coins today for about $1,620 an ounce. (Though you'd probably get a bulk discount — you've got a hefty order).

To make a coin that contains $1 trillion worth of platinum, you'd need about 617 million ounces. That's about 19,300 tons of platinum. Or, approximately 2,000 school buses or two Eiffel Towers.

Face it, you're not going to be flipping that coin. As for vending machines, we expect they'd short-circuit at the sight of one.

And just what would 19,000 tons of platinum look like? It would take up about 30,000 cubic feet of space, so you would need about five 18-wheelers to haul it around.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the world mined about 192 tons of platinum in 2011, so at today's rate, it would take about 100 years to get it out of the ground.

But as we said, if the president decided he wanted Treasury to produce a $1 trillion platinum coin, he just has to say so. And we all just have to agree that's what it's worth. Whether it really is or isn't.

(Michaeleen Doucleff is one of the gold-plated associate producers on NPR's Science Desk.)

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