How close are our metal raw materials?

Researchers identify supply risk for 62 important elements

Ob Gallium, Chromium or Rare earth - Many metals are essential for modern technology. Where supply bottlenecks or shortages threaten, Now, researchers in the most comprehensive analysis of the criticality of 62 Determined elements. As is shown in, is the supply risk, especially in the high metals, which are required for the highly specialized tasks in high-tech devices.
Require, Copper and tin, but also almost all other metals of the Periodic Table, make our modern civilization possible only. Because without them, there would most technical applications not - from cars to computers to televisions or phones. Conversely, this also means: If these basic materials, then this could have disastrous effects on the economy and society.

How critical the future supply of all 62 Metals and transition metals of the Periodic Table, Thomas Graedel have from Yale University in New Haven and his colleagues for the first time determined on a wide. They gathered here in five years of work, not only the reserves and resources of individual commodities, but also, whether bottlenecks due to extremely unequal distribution of deposits or other socio-political aspects threaten, how big is the environmental risk of the degradation and whether the element can be replaced by another.

The Result: At least for iron, Zinc, copper, Aluminum and some other metals have long used it looks relatively well: “They are relatively common and occur also geographically widely distributed before”, explains Graedel. Gold, However, mercury and some platinum group metals can only be supported under considerable strain on the environment.

Local occurrence, political risks

It is different, however, for some metals, required, inter alia, for the electronics and thin film solar cells: Supply shortage threatens therefore especially in indium, Arsenic, Thallium, Antimony, Silver and selenium. “These metals have only small, geographically very limited resources and are also usually supported only as by-products of other metals.”

Similar criticism, this looks for other rare-earth metals. 90 to 95 Come per cent of these rare earths aus China, Consequently, the researchers see this enormous risks to a shortage. Political instability in contrast, could endanger the supply of tantalum. Because a large proportion of this metal is promoted in the climate of civil war Democratic Republic of the Congo.

No replacement in sight

Another group of metals could be just after the researchers,, because the demand is high, but there is no adequate substitute materials. This also applies to some metals, before all, are used as alloys in steel. This group includes indium, Chrome, Magnesium, Mangan, Rhodium, Yttrium and rare earth metals, some.

“It is recognized, that the modern technology of our world is totally dependent on the continuous availability of all these metals - now and in the future”, be stated the researchers. “It would therefore be very short-sighted, if we were to exploit one or more metals so far, for future technologies that nothing would be left.”

Without recycling is not about

According to scientists, therefore, there is no way for a better recycling of these metals from electrical past. However, this is particularly difficult especially for the rare high-tech commodities - which is also due to the design of many modern appliances. “Some metals, such as lead, usually occur in larger components and are already being recycled to a large extent”, explains Graedel.

But especially with many scarce rare earth this was not the case. These are often built, that they can hardly be separated from the remaining components. “Our results are therefore also provides a signal to the Designer, give it more thought, what happens to their products, if they are no longer needed”, so Graedel. (Proceedings of the Natiojnal Academy of Sciences, 2015; two: 10.1073/pnas.1500415112)

(Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 26.03.2015 – NPO)
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