- Scientists have created a new periodic table of natural elements
- They have colour coded it to correspond with the likelihood of it running out
- Some elements used in mobile phone making are at risk of imminent depletion
- This includes gallium, arsenic, yttrium and silver which may soon run out
- Helium is not used in phones but if found in MRI machines and may run out in less than 20 years, experts have warned
An endangered list of elements used in everyday gadgets has been created by scientists.
Some materials commonly used in mobile phones and other gadgets have been listed as under ‘serious threat’.
This includes gallium, arsenic, yttrium and silver.
Scientists have developed a periodic table which highlights the scarcity of the 90 natural elements, with around 30 used in mobile phones.
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It is estimated that about 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone.
Scientists have raised concerns that there will be an increasing scarcity of some elements due to limited supplies, elements being located in conflict areas and an incapacity to fully recycle.
European Chemical Society (EuChemS) represents more than 160,000 chemists and it developed the table to highlight both the remaining availability of all 90 elements and their vulnerability.
The table will be launched at the European Parliament today by Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody.
The event will also highlight the discovery of the oldest-known wallchart of the periodic table, discovered last year at the University of St Andrews.
Work has been undertaken to authenticate and preserve the large, fragile chart after it was found among old equipment in 2014.
Dmitri Mendeleev made his famous disclosure on periodicity in 1869, and the University of St Andrews chart bears an inscription identifying a scientific printer who operated in Vienna between 1875 and 1888.
Professor David Cole-Hamilton, Emeritus Professor in Chemistry at the university, questioned the replacement of mobile phones every two years and urged users to recycle old phones correctly.
Professor David Cole-Hamilton urged people not to let off birthday party balloons into the atmosphere as the inert gas was needed for MRI scans and deep sea diving.
There is no chemical way of manufacturing helium; the supplies on Earth come from the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks.
He said: ‘By having Helium balloons at your birthday party you may prevent people from having an MRI scan.
‘We are recycling it from the MRI scans and most of it from the deep sea diving but we are not recycling from the balloons.
‘In both of those applications it’s recycled, however Helium is very very light, if it gets into the atmosphere it can escape.
‘If we recycle I think we would be fine but if we gradually put balloons up in the atmosphere then the timescale will be shorter.
‘The timescale is shorter than Indium – it is ten years.’
The Professor explained the world had about six years of Helium supply from a mine in Tanzania with the rest coming from the US.
Smartphones could become unaffordable without better recycling of the chemicals in them, he added.
A periodic table (pictured) uncovered during a laboratory clear-out is believed to be the oldest in the world. The teaching chart dating from around 1885 was discovered in the chemistry department at St Andrews University
Professor Eric Scerri from the University of California has dated the St Andrews version of the table (pictured) to between 1879 and 1886
Professor Cole-Hamilton added supplies of Indium, which is used to create smartphone and TV screens were due to run out in 20 years.
Indium is also used in lasers for fibre optics, for cold welding of electrical components and in blue LEDs
He said: ‘That ore will run out in about 20 years in the rate we are using it.
‘We will be able to [build mobile phones] but it will become much more expensive.
‘We would have to pay more for it and probably people at the lower end of the economic activity spectrum would find each much more difficult but may they would keep their phones for longer.
‘But I think that won’t happen because scientists are waking up to the fact that this is a problem.’
Describing what he believes needs to happen to avoid elements running out, he said: ‘We have to first of all reduce the number of mobile phones. We exchange one million mobile phones in the UK every month.
‘Secondly, we should be able to replace the battery, then we have to recycle all the elements that are in it and we have to look for replacements which are more abundant.’
Asked who was responsible, he said: ‘The consumer and of course, the manufacturers because they want to sell more phones, they want you to change your mobile more often.
‘We have to have a proper process for recycling materials.’
WHAT ELEMENTS ARE USED IN MOBILE PHONES AND WHEN WILL THEY RUN OUT?
Mobile phones and other electronic devices rely on a plethora of electronics which may soon be in short supply.
Many are still in surplus but some are potentially going to be extinct naturally within the next century.
Plentiful supply of mobile phone elements