Rare Earth Metals: The Elements of Electronics

Technology has progressed exponentially since the mid-20th century. At one time our computers were run with transistors and endless rolls of magnetic tape. Programs were written on thousands of punch cards. Computers looked more like reel-to-reel stereos.

However, technology became smaller as the components to make them changed. If we fast-forward to modern day, the number our devices have increased, as well as the computing power of our devices, and yet they continue to get smaller and smaller.

The elemental change has occurred through the abilities of rare earth metals; 17 specific elements on the periodic table. They aren’t necessarily rare, in fact they’re all over earth’s crust, but rarely are in significant deposits to make money from mining. We don’t think much about what makes our phones work, but without rare earth metals we would still be in a technological stone age.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. There are large deposits in China, whom is the world’s number one supplier of rare earths. There are other areas with large deposits including Australia and South America. However, there is a problem on the horizon.

As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, we will need more rare earth metals. Developing nations are building infrastructure for technology. There are over 7 billion on the planet. One day they will need computers, cell phones, tablets. Developed nations will continue to want more and more sophisticated devices. The Internet of Things will connect machines that were never once connected.

How will the world be affected when supplies run low? We will be faced with the choice of finding a replacement of rare earths, or find more of these elements on Earth, or find them on other planets. Recycling used rare earths are possible, but how will this affect the quality of our devices? Our worse, how will the economic changes affect the world? When supplies run low, economic struggles become the drum of wars.


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