A new report has concluded that a sizeable proportion of modern technology (in particular smartphones, tablets and other commonly-used gadgets) is extremely over reliant on very rare materials.
If the report’s findings are accurate, the scarcity of the metals and metalloids in question, combined with a sharply increasing demand for such devices, could seriously damage design innovation, as well as the manufacture of future products.
The report, compiled by researchers at Yale University, discussed the use of 62 materials found in widely used technology. Ultimately, the study concluded that none of the 62 metals or metalloids could be replaced without damaging the efficiency of the product. In fact, 12 of the 62 materials could not be replaced at all.
The potential substitute materials simply aren’t up to the job or, perhaps more worryingly, don’t actually exist. In either instance, these material shortages could lead to an economic and technological downturn in the development of mobile technology.
All of the rare components listed are difficult and expensive to obtain.
This scarcity of product availability would limit potential profits, as well as creating something of a ‘glass ceiling’ for innovation and product improvement.
This new report marks the first time that this worrying issue has been properly researched.
In the eyes of many, this study should be seen as a warning and a wake up call. In 2010, China restricted the trading of some of the components featured in the study. It was an act that increased market prices fivefold.
As these materials become increasingly rare, tactics like this may become ever more frequent, causing increased political tension around the world.
It also needs to be stated that the mass manufacture of these devices drains the planet of natural resources and the processing of these materials seriously harms our environment.
The report itself warns that,
“As wealth and population increase worldwide in the next few decades, scientists will be increasingly challenged to maintain and improve product utility by designing new and better materials, but doing so under potential constraints in resource availability.”