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What's In Your Phone? Scientists Throw A Smartphone Into A Blender To Isolate Metals

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What's In Your Phone? Scientists Throw A Smartphone Into A Blender To Isolate Metals

(Kitco News) - Have you ever wondered what your mobile device is made out of and where all the materials came from? A British university attempted to answer this by throwing a smartphone into a blender and isolating all the elements to see what’s behind our mobile screens.

The results revealed that seven kilograms of high-grade gold ore is needed to produce enough gold for just one smartphone, according to the study conducted by a team at the University of Plymouth.

“Each phone contained 90mg of silver and 36mg of gold,” researchers at University of Plymouth said in a press release.

The chemical analysis of the found elements concluded that each smartphone has around 33g of iron, 13g of silicon and 7g of chromium. There were also a number of critical elements, including 900mg of tungsten, 70mg of cobalt and molybdenum, as well as 160mg of neodymium and 30mg of praseodymium, the study said.

With 1.4 billion smartphones produced each other, this leaves a significant toll on the planet, the researchers at University of Plymouth warned.

“This means that concentration-wise, a phone has 100 times more gold – or 10 times more tungsten – than a mineral resource geologists would call ‘high-grade’, the researchers said. “It also demonstrates that to create just one phone you would need to mine 10-15kg of ore, including 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 1kg of typical copper ore, 750g of typical tungsten ore and 200g of typical nickel ore.”

The British scientists also released a video of their experiment showing the mobile device being shredded into powder by a blender. The video quickly went viral on social media, with many people expressing surprise at the diversity and amount of elements needed to build a smartphone.

The process of chemical analysis involved mixing all the blended smartphone powder with sodium peroxide, which is a very strong oxidizer, at almost 500C (932F).

The point of the research was largely aimed at figuring out the quantities of “rare or so-called ‘conflict’ elements” in each phone as well as to bring more attention to recycling rates, the researchers said.

The British scientists questioned where the needed elements came from and where they were mined.

“We rely increasingly on our mobile phones but how many of us actually think what is behind the screen? When you look the answer is often tungsten and cobalt from conflict zones in Africa,” said one of the researchers, Arjan Dijkstra, lecturer in igneous petrology.

“There are also rare elements such as neodymium, praseodymium, gadolinium and dysprosium, not to mention quantities of gold, silver and other high value elements. All of these need to be mined by extracting high value ores, which is putting a significant strain on the planet,” Dijkstra added.

Increasing awareness of what our devices are made of is creating a more conscientious consumer, said the other researcher, Colin Wilkins, lecturer in economic geology.

“We are now in a climate where people are becoming more socially responsible and interested in the contents of what they are purchasing,” Wilkins said. “Partly on the back of this, several of the major mobile phone companies have committed to upping their recycling rates … We hope this project will encourage more people to ask questions about their own behaviours.”

The study was done as a collaboration between University of Plymouth’s Dijkstra and Wilkins as well as Devon-based animation company Real World Visuals, which produced the viral video.

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