What is your mobile made of?

What is your mobile made of?


In a mobile phone there are more than 70 different chemical elements. Without the rocks and minerals that we extract from the mines, mobile phones would be impossible.

In the shell we find carbon (C), hydrogen (H), magnesium (Mg) and alumina (Al), among others. The cover is not only designed to be pretty. For example, nickel (Ni) is used as a shield to mitigate electromagnetic interference and bromine (Br) as a fire retardant.

In reality, elements do not always appear in isolation, they appear joined to other elements forming compounds, alloys or other substances. In the case of casings, magnesium and aluminum alloys are common .

The cables of the future are here

People who grew up in the 80s opened an electronic device and found the occasional cable. If you open a modern mobile phone, it is very possible that you will not see a single cable. And the fact is that “cables” have been printed on silicon (Si) plates for decades . Like the connections, which use copper (Cu), silver (Au), platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), tantalum (Ta) and gold (Au). A fact that does not leave anyone indifferent: in one kilogram of mobile phone there is 100 times more gold than in one kilogram of the mineral from which gold is extracted. On the other hand, most solders are made with tin (Sn) accompanied by lead (Pb), although germanium (Ge) and bismuth (Bi) are also used.

Our precious screen

The screen is the means of interaction with the user and one of the most important aspects to take into account. Indium tin oxide is responsible for allowing you to use the screen with your fingers . It has the characteristic that it is transparent and also conductive of electricity . Although there is only 0.02 g of indium in a mobile phone, it is estimated that the world’s reserves will run out in the 2030s. Will graphene be the substitute? The flexibility and strength of graphene make it a good candidate.

We depend on rare earths irremediably , in the screens we can find yttrium (Y), lanthanum (La), terbium (Tb), praseodymium (Pr), europium (Eu), dysprosium (Dy) and gadolinium (Gd).

Magnets in our pockets

Magnets are present in mobile phones for several reasons: speakers, microphones and vibration systems . Magnets made of neodymium (Nd), alloys of iron (Fe) and boron (B), are usually used, although those made of praseodymium (Pr) and dysprosium (Dy) are also sometimes present.

It is the second time that dysprosium, a rare earth, appears. 95% of the world’s rare earths are owned by China. You can imagine what that means at the level of international politics.

Batteries: our workhorse

We have all had problems with batteries. What if it wears out quickly, what if it breaks, etc. The most widespread and which, in turn, have been with us the longest are lithium (Li) batteries , although they are actually made with lithium cobalt oxide and carbon in the form of graphite. They are usually covered with an aluminum cover. Here graphene comes into action again, as it is an alternative that could take advantage in the future, just like silicon batteries. Of course there are many more candidates and it is an emerging topic of study in recent years.

The photographic camera

We have already talked about the screen, in which there is an oxide capable of locating the touch on the screen. But what about the camera glass? Obviously it is not the same. Sapphire is usually used , which is a much harder mineral than usual glass . Hardness is the way to measure a mineral’s resistance to being grated. This means that sapphire glass will give us better results, since we will have sharper photos.

electronic components

There are many electronic components in a mobile phone and, to manufacture them, many elements are used. It is not our objective to study the laws that govern electronics , but we will mention some of these components.

Tantalum (Ta) is used in the manufacture of electronic tantalum capacitors, which are key components in the electronics of modern mobile devices. These capacitors are important because they allow mobile devices to charge quickly and stay charged for long periods . In addition, tantalum is used in other electronic components, such as diodes and resistors.

Tungsten or tungsten (W), which is extracted from wolframite, is used in mobile phones to make LED light filaments . These filaments are more efficient and long-lasting than conventional light bulbs and are therefore a popular choice for lighting mobile phone screens. Tungsten is also used in other electronic components, such as electrical contacts and microprocessors, due to its high strength and ability to maintain its properties under extreme conditions.

The dark side of conflict minerals

“Conflict minerals” are minerals that are mined in areas affected by armed conflict and human rights violations, especially in developing countries . These minerals are often associated with the financing of armed groups and the exacerbation of conflicts due to their economic and strategic value in the global industry.

Conflict minerals are also called 3TG, by their acronym:

  • Tungsten
  • Tin
  • Tantalum
  • Gold

Its use is essential for the manufacture of all types of electronic devices, not just mobile phones. The extraction and commercialization of these minerals in conflict-affected areas can directly or indirectly finance armed groups, fueling violence and contributing to the prolongation of conflicts. Furthermore, the exploitation of mineral resources in these regions is often carried out under dangerous and inhumane working conditions , with serious consequences for workers and local communities.

To address this issue, various initiatives have been implemented internationally, including regulations and transparency standards in the mineral supply chain , as well as certification and labeling programs that seek to ensure that traded minerals do not come from areas affected by conflict or human rights violations. However, it remains a complex challenge due to the globalized nature of the minerals industry and the difficulty of fully tracking and controlling the supply chain .

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