Minerals in your mobile phone

Thursday June 4 2015

Different minerals are used in the manufacture of different parts of mobile phones. PHOTO | FILE

Different minerals are used in the manufacture of different parts of mobile phones. PHOTO | FILE 

By ALLAN OLINGO, The EastAfrican

The raw materials used in the manufacture of mobile phones come from a variety of minerals. These and the parts of a mobile phone they are used to make are listed below.

Screen

The mobile phone screen is made up of indium and tin, which are mainly found in China. The liquid crystal display (LCD) screen is made of aluminosilicate glass, a mixture of aluminium and silicon.

China is the world’s biggest producer of tin and is also a major importer of the metal used primarily in solder for electronics. In 2014, China exported 3,000 tonnes with the average tin prize being $23,150 a tonne. Industry experts note that at the end of 2015, the prizes will climb to $27,000, which will see China rake in $81 million.

Battery

Lithium, colt and manganese are used to make phone batteries. The majority of today’s phones use lithium ion batteries. In 2013, global lithium consumption doubled driven largely by its use in lithium-ion batteries for cell phones and power tools.

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The world’s supply of lithium comes from Australia, Chile, China, Tibet and Argentina. According to the US Geological Survey, Australia in 2014 produced 13,000 tonnes of lithium followed by Chile at 12,900. In Africa, it’s only Zimbabwe which managed to produce 1,000 tonnes at the privately owned Bikita Minerals raking in $7 million.

Electrical units

A wide range of elements and compounds are used in the electronics of a phone. The processor of the phone is made from pure silicon, which is bombarded with elements such as phosphorus, antimony, arsenic, boron, indium or gallium.

The micro-electrical components and wiring in the phone are composed mainly of copper, gold, and silver. Congo and Zambia are some of the main exporting countries. In 2013, Congo’s copper output rose to 900,000 tonnes.

The electrical unit also consists of micro-capacitors which use tantalum, platinum and palladium. tantalum and niobium are extracted from Coltan ores. DRC is the world’s largest producer of Coltan. Rwanda and Uganda also contribute significantly to Coltan exports in the world. In 2013, Rwanda was the world’s single largest exporter of coltan, exporting 2.4 million tonnes. This earned it $134.5 million.

Palladium and platinum are other minerals used in the electrical circuits of phones. South Africa and Zimbabwe are some of the countries that export these minerals. The platinum price in 2014 averaged $1840 per ounce last year with Europe and China being the main markets for this mineral.

Amplifier, vibrators, receiver

The microphone and speaker of the phone both contain magnets, which are usually made from arsenic and gallium. South Africa is one of the world’s largest exporters of arsenic minerals.

Gallium is a by-product of mining and processing of aluminium, zinc and copper. China produces 80 per cent of the world’s used gallium with Japan being the biggest consumer mainly because of its production of electronics. Gallium has mainly been used in amplifiers for mobile phones integrated circuits and also in LEDs for backlighting of computers, phones and televisions.

Tungsten also finds use as weights for the vibrating motors within the phone. China, Russia, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda are some of the countries that produce these rare mineral. East Africa produced a combined 710 tonnes of this mineral in 2014.

Minerals such as neodymium are used in magnets, which make speakers vibrate. China produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s supply of rare-earth minerals and neodymium is one of them.

Casing
Most phone casings are either made of metals or plastic with the latter mainly relying on carbon-based units to make the plastic covers. Magnesium compounds are one of the minerals in the phone case. Magnesium is mined in China, Brazil, India and the United States, with China dominating its consumption.

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