September 24, 2022
Scientists Blend an iPhone to the Dust to Find Out How Many Natural Resources It Takes to Build One

We all know that smartphones are made using various metals and some rare earth minerals. To find out exactly what goes into making a smartphone and electronics in general, some scientists went through blending an iPhone to the dust. What they found was a bit surprising, and everyone should take note of how their smartphones are made why there’s a need to recycle them.

The researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK, Dr. Arjan Dijkstra and Dr. Colin Wilkins, blended an iPhone 4s to the dust using an industrial blender and then conducted a series of detailed chemical analysis of the dissolved results. They hoped to demonstrate why we should all take a keener interest in what is contained in the electrical devices that we use every day.

Dr. Arjan Dijkstra is a lecturer in Igneous Petrology and Earth Materials, and Dr. Colin Wilkins is a lecturer in Economic Geology at the University of Plymouth. They worked with Real World Visuals, a Devon-based animation company, to create a short video to demonstrate the amount and variety of the Earth’s resources that are used every year in the production of smartphones.

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The researchers took the blended materials and then mixed the dust with sodium peroxide, a powerful oxidizer, at almost 500°C. Then, they did a detailed analysis of the content in acid to determine the precise chemicals. The iPhone 4s contained 7g of chromium, 33g of iron, 13g of silicon, and smaller quantities of various other substances.

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The iPhone also contained 70mg of cobalt and molybdenum, 160mg of neodymium, 30mg of praseodymium, and 900mg of tungsten. It was found that each smartphone also contained 36mg of gold and 90mg of silver. Concentration-wise, a smartphone has 100x more gold and 10x more tungsten than what a geologist would call high-grade. To make each smartphone, one would need to mine 10kg – 15kg of ore, including 1kg of copper ore, 7kg of high-grade gold ore, 200g of nickel ore, and 750g of tungsten ore.

The 3-minute video below explains what a typical smartphone is made of and how much of Earth’s metals and minerals are required to extract it.

[Source: Plymouth University]

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