Rare Metals and the Possibility of a World without Gadgets

Posted on Dec 13 2013 - 6:00pm by Robert

Can you imagine a future without gadgets? Probably not. After all, isn’t it the case that there are more gadgets on the planet every single day?

By this time next year there will probably by twice as many smartphones as people on the planet and we will all be wearing smart socks and communicating with each other through increasingly small gadgets. Won’t we? Maybe not.

The problem with the increasing amount of gadgets we use is that they rely too much on relatively scarce materials which could run out and leave us gadget-less and sad in the future. Who says so? Prof Thomas Graedel and his band of merry men. Who’s he? He is a researcher at Yale University who led a team who looked in the use of 62 different metals or metalloids which are currently used in the production of gadgets such as phones and tablets.

Some Have no Alternatives

shelvesWorryingly, they discovered that not a single one of these rare metals had a viable substitute which would work as well. In fact, 12 of them had absolutely no alternative at all.

To add to the potential problems, we need to take into account that these materials are often difficult and expensive to extract, with various possible environmental problems linked to the extraction of them.

Political issues and natural disasters can also seriously disrupt the supply chain as well, as we have discovered in both China and Thailand in recent years.  The Thai flooding in 2011 meant that there was a shortage of some devices for months, while the Chinese reluctance to sell some rare metals increased the price drastically for foreign gadget makers.

What would you do if electronic gadgets no longer existed? Fancy a game of Scrabble?

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