Why the metals used in tech products are… irreplaceable

Molly Wood Dec 5, 2013
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Why the metals used in tech products are… irreplaceable

Molly Wood Dec 5, 2013
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Yale University is out with a study this week that finds many of the elements on the periodic table that help power everything from smart phones to flat screen televisions are irreplaceable, which could pose problems for the tech industry.

Devices like tablets — even cars — are powered by a complex web of metals that are totally unique in their functions.

Barbara Reck, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and co-author of the study, says that means elements can’t be substituted.

“Let’s take flat screen displays for TVs or on the smartphones,” Reck says. “For each of the different colors you need a specific element. There’s no other (way) to get a beautiful, really nice red except that you have europium, which is one of the rare earth metals.”

If there’s a shortage in one or several of these elements, it could pose problems for manufacturers, she says.

“If there’s an issue, the answers may not be as straightforward as one may think by just taking another metal,” Reck says.

The more tech products, the more demand for these metals.

And for now, says Gareth Hatch, principal of Technology Metals Research, “there’s no substitute for new production or accessing new material that comes out of the ground.”

Hatch says more needs to be done to recycle and conserve the metals already being used. Which means one day, your old broken cell phone might actually be worth something.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.