Plymouth University scientists have blended an entire mobile phone to show the quantity of rare earth elements used in everyday electronics.
The project’s aim was to show the quantities of such ‘conflict’ elements in each phone and encourage greater recycling rates.
Every year, around 1.4 billion mobile phones are produced around the world. This in turn increases the reliance on rare mineral resources, putting new demands on the global mining industry.
The project was conceived by Dr Arjan Dijkstra and Dr Colin Wilkins, who worked with Devon-based animation company Real World Visuals to produce a short video on the same.
To conduct the experiment, the researchers took the blended phone and mixed it at almost 500°C with a powerful oxidizer, sodium peroxide.
They then did a detailed analysis of the resulting solution in acid to determine its precise chemical contents.
The results showed the phone used in the tests contained 33 grams of iron, 13 grams of silicon and 7 grams of chromium, as well as smaller quantities of other abundant substances.
It also featured a number of critical elements like 900 mg of tungsten and 70 mg of cobalt and molybdenum, as well as 160 mg of neodymium and 30 mg of praseodymium.
Moreover, each phone contained about 90 mg of silver and 36 mg of gold.
Concentration-wise, a phone had 100 times more gold – or 10 times more tungsten – than a mineral resource geologists would call ‘high-grade.’
The Plymouth project also demonstrated that in order to create just one phone, you would need to mine 10-15 kg of ore.
These include 7 kg of high-grade gold ore, 1 kg of typical copper ore, 750 grams of typical tungsten ore and 200 grams of typical nickel ore.
Image and content: University of Plymouth