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Catalytic Resource Cycles

#1
So I recently came across the concept of self-sustaining catalytic cycles, especially relating to biology and the metabolism-first theory on the origins of life :geek: . While I am certainly no expert on the subject, it did give me an idea, namely that of enclosed resource cycles, where resources are combined in reaction chambers, and the products of one reaction form the catalyst for the next reaction, in an A>B>C>D>E>...>A enclosed loop.

Now if the products of these reactions solely provided the resource for the next reaction, it would be a gigantic and pointless "So what" mechanic, however if these reactions also produced important and useful resources that could only be produced via these reactions, then you could start to have a vibrant economy based on maintaining these catalytic cycles.

For this, I propose 3 resource classes, reagents(R) and catalysts(C), as well as the special reaction-only resources(P). Reagents would be fairly common resources in the universe like say Iron, Copper, or Water, while Catalysts would be resources that exist in only trace amounts in the wild, and would be equivalent to elements like Osmium, Mercury, and Tantalum (Though we're not talking real chemistry, just in terms of rarity).

Some C class resources would have useful functions on their own, but their natural rarity would likely make them prohibitively expensive...However these reaction chambers can create much greater quantities of C class resources than what's found in the wild...and with a completely enclosed catalytic loop, potentially infinite quantities. The reactions themselves would require a high ratio of R class to C class resources in a reaction chamber for the reaction to occur, though the specifics should vary by reaction, and perhaps by universe seed (I expect there would be a not insignificant amount of balancing to be done here).

As an example, if we take reaction A, utilizing reagent Ra and catalyst Ca it would produce Cb and Pa. Pa could then be used in other processes or as materials for manufacturing. Cb would then primarily be used in reaction B with Rb to get Cc and Pb. :geek:

For a completely enclosed cycle, you would need at least 1 C class resource to get the first reaction started, and then sufficient amounts of all R class resources to keep the cycle going. If you use biology as a metaphor, then C class resources are the internally produced enzymes, R class the necessary nutrients, and P class are the waste products :lol: . And similar to a living organism, if you cannot acquire sufficient amounts of an R class resource, the cycle essentially dies. Given that a completely enclosed cycle may require all sorts of R class resources which would be distributed throughout numerous systems, unless you're a large regional faction then trade will be essential, and even if you are a large faction, logistics will be essential.

There are some optional variations to this idea, first and simplest is that some C class materials could decay, so if its producing reaction doesn't occur frequently enough, the catalyst will have an unreliable supply. Second, is having branching cycles:
A>B>Ca>Da>Ea>...a>A
A>B>Cb >Db >Eb >...b >B(or)Cb

This would allow for separate enclosed cycles, perhaps using different R and C class resources, and would additionally turn the catalyst where the reaction branches into a reagent for the branching cycle. :geek:

So, thoughts?
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The conquest of Nature is to be achieved through Number and Measure.
It's better to have questions you can't answer than answers you can't question.

Imagination Fertilizer
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#2
I've encountered several of these in a certain Factorio modpack, and termed them "enrichment loops." This encompasses net-positive, net-negative, and net-neutral processes.
Any process takes in a set of input resources RI and outputs a set of resources RO. If RI and RO share elements, the process is an enrichment loop. We can call the shared resources RS. The categorization of the enrichment loop is determined by the relation between the elements of RS in each of RI and RO. If they are exactly equal, the loop is net-neutral with respect to that resource. If the value in RI exceeds that in RO, it is net-negative. And if the relation is reversed, it is net-positive. Of some note is that loops may have different net behavior with respect to different cycled resources. This property could be leveraged to yield greater complexity in resource processing, and possibly the formation of new enrichment loops from aggregations of smaller ones.
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#3
This feels related to the Refining Gameplay Ideas Mined suggestion I made a while back for a gameplay feature that allows players to define processes that apply specific effects to raw mined minerals, producing relatively high concentrations of valuable elements that can either be cycled into other processes, or consumed as components in manufactured products, or simply sold.

The idea here was to provide an interesting, fun step in between mining and manufacturing. In particular, I strongly prefer the idea that when you mine an asteroid, what you get is not one element, nor even just one complex mineral ore, but a mix of different mineral ores in differing concentrations. So part of the "mining" gameplay process is using sensors of some kind to locate the sweet spot on an asteroid (if there is one) of a relatively high concentration of an ore that contains a high percentage of some element that's valuable in refining or manufacturing. I talked about what that kind of mining might look like in this post.

For an idea of what a real refining process looks like, here's a description of how to get aluminum from bauxite ore: the classic Bayer process for obtaining alumina from bauxite ore followed by using the Hall-Héroult process to refine aluminum from alumina. Here's an example of what that whole series looks like:

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I'm absolutely not suggesting that anything this complex ought to be part of Limit Theory! But a stripped-down, idealized version with just enough pieces and combinatory options to be interesting...?

So how would you say something like this fits with your general concept of resources + catalysts -> modified catalysts + outputs?
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#4
i'd personally not view/use it as refining but more as mass replication of rare materials.
where you put in a little of "rare" material, a ton of cheap bulk material and get out an okay quantity of "rare" material

for example like monopole and magmatter tech in the orionsarm universe ((if you value your lifetime, dont click either of those links. they'll drain at least two weeks from you))
very hard to manufacture if you dont already have some but relatively easy to replicate if you get your hands on some and immensely useful for a lot of technologies.

so those catalytic processes would be ways to get bulk amounts of "rare" materials
preferrably with some large and expensive facility.

creating a point which would/could lead to dependency on a very small set of critical facilities which would produce a great "downfall of an empire" device.
when they lose their bulk "rare" material factories they cant maintain their current technology and have to claw their way back up by getting catalytic amounts of the material and the facilities to utilise them again.
or adapt their technology and go down a different path.
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#5
One of the ideas I like best about catalysis (and some chemicals) in commercial element extraction processes is that of loops: some things go into a process step, then come out again in a modified form, then go into another step that returns them to their original form at which point they're looped back to the earlier process step. These are typically reducing agents, introduced in the first step: water, acids, and bases that break up chemical compounds into 1) new compounds that have a greater concentration of the desired element and 2) "waste" compounds with a high concentration of the reducing agent. The second step is then some chemical process that strips out the waste material to give you a purified version of the reducing agent -- it then gets looped back into the previous step.

The Second Law always takes its cut, of course, so you always have to continuously add some amount of these agents. But implementing these loops is common because it can dramatically decrease the amount of the reducing agent you'd need otherwise.

Certain catalytic agents may also have this property. I think you were suggesting something like this, Hyperion?

Cornflakes_91 wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 3:33 pm
monopole and magmatter tech in the orionsarm universe ((if you value your lifetime, dont click either of those links. they'll drain at least two weeks from you))

Truth. Their "Color of the Sky on Alien Worlds" page has been one of my go-to links for many years.
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#6
It's similar to the mining idea you suggested, and I've always thought there would be a place for a mod like that to essentially make refining materials almost as much of gameplay as exploring or dogfights... Besides perhaps factorio, I can't think of any game that turns industrial processes into a game,so I'm sure it would have a niche but dedicated fan base.
EDIT: you posted while I was typing, but yes, that is close to what I'm suggesting, but instead of applying a single step to capture the catalyst, it requires you to go through the whole loop (or to go prospecting for it in a belt somewhere)

However it's not really the same thing, cornflakes summarized my idea very succinctly, though I was thinking that each reaction chamber might be separate objects instead of a single huge facility so that you have the flexibility to operate just a single chamber on a lonely station close to the reagent materials, or snap them together to form a massive beating heart of an empire. And yes, this sort of super factory would be one of the most valuable and coveted/loathed structures in the game and would be an alluring target if you can take it or take it out. And of course there's always the chance that some reactions require huge structures by themselves :twisted:

Narwhalz, I do like that idea, as it's similar to Flat's suggestion, but I have a feeling that having "real" alloys and composites wouldn't be worth the CPU and would be a royal PITA to test and balance with the rest of the game. I just think that metaphorical (2 Thorium + 10 Iron -> 6 Gold + 2 Unobtanium-247) is a simpler method both to understand and to compute.
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The conquest of Nature is to be achieved through Number and Measure.
It's better to have questions you can't answer than answers you can't question.

Imagination Fertilizer
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Re: Catalytic Resource Cycles

#7
Hyperion wrote:
Sun Jun 10, 2018 11:13 pm
Narwhalz, I do like that idea, as it's similar to Flat's suggestion, but I have a feeling that having "real" alloys and composites wouldn't be worth the CPU and would be a royal PITA to test and balance with the rest of the game. I just think that metaphorical (2 Thorium + 10 Iron -> 6 Gold + 2 Unobtanium-247) is a simpler method both to understand and to compute.
I don't think I said anything about particular processes? I was trying to be deliberately vague. You can define your RI and RO as you like—real, fantastical, or empty.

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