Alchemy is a potentially lucrative part of the Tech II production processes, but all too few players know how it works. I figured a little primer on it would be an interesting read, not to mention a nice break myself from my normal fare. I'll cover a little bit of background, how you set it up, and finally, the most interesting part: how you can make money from it.
A Little Bit of Background
The Tech II production chain is a little bit more complex than the Tech I chain. A builder does not simply use raw Technetium or Neodymium. The raw moon minerals must be reacted into Processed materials, and then reacted further into Advanced materials. Only then are the moon minerals usable; a builder turns them into Tech II components and then, finally, Tech II ships. The complexity does nothing to eliminate bottlenecks from the system, though. I've written about bottlenecks in the past; anyone who remembers high school chemistry can think of it as a limiting reagent. Older players will remember that the bottleneck was Dysprosium and Promethium until Dominion, at which point CCP changed material requirements in components, and the bottleneck shifted to Technetium.
Prior to Dominion, however, CCP implemented Alchemy as a first go at controlling the price of Dysprosium and Promethium. The output of Alchemy is a Processed material, but as the name implies, one of the inputs is replaced by another more common material. The original pre-Dominion Alchemy reactions only partially achieved their goal (which is why CCP stepped in and changed the requirements for Tech II components), but the more recent application to nerf Technetium was quite successful. The reason for the difference, however, is a topic for another time. Instead, we'll move on to how you actually do alchemy.
What You'll Need
If you're a veteran of running regular reactions, all of this will be familiar to you. Alchemy reactions are considered to be simple reactions, and use all the same equipment and setups as you'd use in a first stage chain. The chief difference is that output volume is much lower (a single m3 per hour versus 100m3 per hour), so your output target does not have to be a silo; a Coupling Array suffices.
For anyone who's new to reactions, that probably didn't make sense, so read on.
The first thing you need is the equipment - a POS and modules. Amarr POS are usually preferred, thanks to the combination of slightly cheaper fuel, use of lasers, and 50% bonus to silo size, allowing operators to run a reaction cycle for longer without having to refill it. Gallente towers are also strong contenders; while hybrid weapons are not as good as lasers, their silo bonus is even bigger. The reaction equipment - a Coupling Array, a Simple Reaction Array, and two Silos - fits onto a medium tower of either race. However, go with large towers if you plan to run multiple chains. A large tower is more defensible and can fit two reactions per tower for the same fuel cost as two mediums.
Next up are the inputs. We'll use Neo Mercurite as an example. You'll need one unit of of the reaction "blueprint" per chain - "Unrefined Neo Mercurite Reaction" in our example. They're all found cheaply throughout highsec. For the reaction itself, you'll need 100 units of each input, which is listed on the reaction. In our example, that's Mercury and Platinum. Silos on an Amarr tower will hold 12.5 days worth of reaction material, which is 30,000 units. However, after your first cycle, the amount of reactants you'll need to purchase drops, because the unrefined output refines not only into the final product, but also a most of one of the original inputs. For our example, that's 40 units of Neo Mercurite and 95 units of Mercury, but that varies by reaction.
Don't forget your fuel. A medium tower uses 20 blocks an hour, while a large uses 40. Faction towers use less, and Sovereignty conveys a 25% fuel discount as well. Fuel includes Strontium Clathrates, too! While it isn’t burned during normal operation, a tower with Strontium in its fuel bay will enter a reinforced mode if its shields drop below 25%. When in reinforced mode, the tower burns the Strontium (200 units per hour for a medium tower, 400 for a large) but is invulnerable. That gives you time to rally friendly forces to defend and repair the tower, so plan accordingly.
Setup is easy. Anchor and online the tower. Anchor and online your defensive equipment if you're using it. Anchor, but do not yet online your silos. Before onlining the silos, first pick what it holds, and fill it. Only after you've filled your input silos, and setup your output silo (or rather, your output Coupling Array), do you online any of them.
Next, place the reaction inside the reactor. You'll be shown the inputs and outputs. Drag the icon on the right of the input silo to the corresponding spot on the left side of the reactor; do this for all input silos. Then, drag the output icon on the right from the reactor into the coupling array. If you did everything right, the reactor should say "Starting up..." and you're done!
Show me the Money
"So, how can I make money? You told me I'd be able to make money?"
Alchemy is ever-shifting, moving in value as market prices shift. However, as of late, there's been one trend: Neodymium is going up, and the market isn't keeping up! Thanks to that, the Neo Mercurite Alchemy reaction has been worth nearly 500m a month for a couple weeks now, peaking at upwards of a billion isk per month at times. That might not sound like much, but let's put it into perspective. That's the profit to be made from running a single medium tower with just a few hundred million isk worth of reactants in it at any given time. The big reactions (Nanotransistors, Fullerides, etc) cost far more to run and require two or three large towers to run.
Sounds quite a lot better when put that way, doesn't it?