Mining For Mobiles
Although it sounds surprising enough, each and every electrical device holds some precious yet quite conflicting minerals. For this assignment, the device I chose to research into was the iPhone, as many people living in the 20th century owns one, and have gotten used to the life with one, so found it interesting to find out what they were made of and what their effects are on the rest of the world outside our community. First of all, the iPhone – developed by Apple – has an infinite amount of uses including calling, translation, messaging, gaming, work, camera uses, music, calendar, time, compass, calculator, maps, weather and many more. iPhone prices vary too, from the iPhone 6s starting from $549 to the iPhone 7 Plus that ranges from $769 to $969!
Materials in the iPhone
Many materials are required to create iPhones, including many rare earth minerals. Examples of these include: Yttrium (Y), Lanthanum (La), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Europium (Eu), Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb) and Dysprosium (Dy). These, of course all contribute to a certain activation for example the vibration or colour of your iPhone. Below is a list of what some of these materials help function:
Yttrium (Y) – Colour screen
Lanthanum (La) – Colour Screen, Phone Circuitry
Praseodymium (Pr) Colour Screen, Phone Circuitry, Speakers
Neodymium (Nd) Phone Circuitry, Speakers, Vibration Unit
Europium (Eu) Colour Screen, Phone Circuitry
Gadolinium (Gd) Colour Screen, Phone Circuitry, Speakers
Terbium (Tb) Colour Screen, Vibration Unit
Dysprosium (Dy) Colour Screen, Speakers, Vibration Unit
Tantalum (Ta) – Controls power flow
Tin (Sn) Solder on circuit board
Gold (Au) To Coat The Wiring, Good Conductor of Electricity
Gold (Au), Tantalum (Ta) and Tungsten (W)
Tungsten (W) is a shiny, silvery-white metal, an element in the iPhone that is used to help create the vibration of your phone. It has a high density of 19.3 g / cm3, meaning that tungsten is a heavy metal. This, as well as it being hard is the reason tungsten is used in iPhones: it keeps the vibration from falling apart.
Tungsten’s melting point is 3414°C: the highest melting point of all known metals. This is important in the iPhone as it can become hot without much evaporation. It is a very malleable and conductive metal, making it useful in electrical devices. It also has five isotopes: 180W, 182W, 183W, 184W and 186W. The average price of tungsten is $24.04 / kg.
Gold (Au) is the highest valued metal in each and every cell phone, and has a high density of 19.3g /cm3, causing it to be a great conductor of electricity as it moves electrons easily. The melting point for gold is at 1064.18°C, while its boiling point is at 2836°C. For its isotopes, Gold only has two: 197Au and 198Au. As briefly mentioned before, gold is a highly conductive element, as well as being ductile and one of the most malleable known metals. The average price of gold is $39,545.39 / kg.
As well as many other elements, gold has many uses including some monetary systems, jewellery, architectural ornaments, some artworks… However, as surprising as it might be, gold is a key element in each electrical device. In the iPhone for example, gold is used as a electrical connector as it is “ideal for protecting electrical copper components because it conducts electricity well and does not corrode,” states rsc.org. Indeed, if gold was not fortified, it would break the contact. Gold is also used as wires inside computer chips to produce circuits. To sum up, in a single iPhone 5, there is approximately 34 milligrams of gold, with $1.58 worth of recycling value.
Tantalum (Ta), is an element coming from the metal ore Coltan, an insulating layer for electrical devices. Compared to the other two elements, tantalum has a rather low density of 16.4 g/cm3. It is a highly conductive metal of heat, and electricity, as well as being very ductile and malleable yet still quite hard. Tantalum is a very important element in the iPhone as without it, the phone would fall completely silent. Tantalum (Coltan) is also used to control the power flow of the device.
The melting point of Tantalum is at 3017°C, a very high temperature but not quite as high as tungsten. Similarly to gold, tantalum only has two isotopes: 180Ta and 181Ta. The average price of tantalum is $125.84 / kg and has a boiling point of 5455°C.
Who are the Producers?
Gold and what are known as the 3 T’s: Tungsten, Tin and Tantalum, are four minerals that are in each of our technologies. All these mostly come from the eastern area of Congo, Africa, under brutal force and slavery.
Gold’s top three producers are China (producing approximately 13.61% of all gold), Australia and the USA. However, there are quite a few other countries with resources of gold such as South Africa, Peru and Russia. As for tungsten, it’s three main producers are China, Russia and Bolivia, and for Tantalum: Brazil, Rwanda and China.
In general, Africa is an extremely important source of minerals, especially with the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in central Africa, producing over 30% of the world’s coltan, South Africa producing platinum and many other minerals such as copper, aluminium, lead, nickel, chromite and manganese.
Impacts of the Materials in Congo
One of the major issues that happens too is the illegal exportation of the minerals from Congo into neighbouring countries Uganda and Rwanda. This already makes it difficult to keep trace of the minerals, and even more after they are exported to the far east, and blended with other minerals from all over the world.
Economic / Safety Issues
The Congolese make a lot of money each year with the trading of their minerals, and with this money they buy many guns, pistols and other war machines. Over $185 million a year for armed groups was produced from Tin, Tungsten and Tantalum alone in Africa…
The environment of the mines are dangerous and unreliable, and this along with starvation causes nearly 45,000 deaths each month. In 1998 alone, there were approximately 5.4 million deaths, and not all of these were grown men… “Children as young as six years old still make up an estimated 40 percent of the mining workforce.” writes dissentmagazine.org, meaning that not only slavery, but child abuse is a major safety issue in Congo.
As for the economics, the “lucky” miners can earn up to $5 a day for 12 hours worth of work. As writes dailymail.co.uk; “their minimum wage is $3 a day.” However, in some areas of Congo, these workers don’t get paid at all, and are forced to work as miners or militias. These are most often under harsh conditions and they either end up dying or starving to death.
Another big issue that is going on in Eastern Congo is the mountain gorillas. The Virunga National Park in Congo is home to the highly rare and endangered Mountain Gorilla. The majority of these (only 800!) are inhabitants of this park, yet the Congolese government has absolutely no thought on prioritizing this issue over the money they receive with the mines.
Congo has gotten $176,750,000.00 revenue out of gold, including $106,050,000.00 funding the war. Some children as young as six years old are forced to join as miners, as well as thousands, millions even of other people, abused into mining for these minerals.
We should help because overall – as innocent as we may seem – we are in-a-way causing the violence in Congo, acting as the consumers of these electronic devices and as long as we consume, the companies manufacture, and as long as they manufacture, Congo produces, and so on.
If – as consumers – we demanded a new type of technology, some conflict-free products, then the horror and slavery that started after World War II in Congo would finally decrease, and even perhaps be brought to a complete halt. This would help because if many people got together and put so much pressure and protests against Apple, Samsung, and the other electronic manufacturers, they would be forced to cut down the amount of conflict minerals used in the iPhones and other devices.