Your old phone is full of untapped precious metals!!!
There’s gold, platinum and other valuable materials in every phone – the hard part is getting it out.
"A diamond-encrusted iPhone can set you back $95m – but if this piece of i-bling is a little out of your price range, don’t feel despondent. Every smartphone contains precious metals including gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium."
Most people picture copper when they think about how electricity is conducted, probably because it’s the most common conductor. Silver is actually the best conductor, followed closely by gold. Copper is cheaper than precious metals, but it’s also much slower in transporting electrons than its glamorous siblings.
In the world of computing and communications, speed is more important than cost, so copper remains relegated to construction and pennies.
And as fast a conductor as silver is, it corrodes or tarnishes easily whenever it comes in contact with water — even with humid air.
"Corrosion is to electrons what fresh road tar would be to Olympic runners."
Gold, on the other hand, is highly corrosion-resistant. So, while it’s not as fast as silver, it doesn’t fall apart like silver and is many times faster than copper.
This is more than just an amusing detail about the device that never leaves your side. These precious metals are now looking more precious than ever, as we face the prospect of one day being no longer able to afford to dig them out of the ground. Suddenly your smartphone is looking a lot more valuable than you might think.
How much gold is in a smartphone?
Smartphones are pocket-sized vaults of precious metals and rare earths. A typical iPhone is estimated to house around 0.034g of gold, 0.34g of silver, 0.015g of palladium and less than one-thousandth of a gram of platinum.
"One ton of iPhones would deliver 300 times more gold than a ton of gold ore and 6.5 times more silver than a ton of silver ore"
And that’s just the start. Smartphones also contain a range of rare earth elements – elements that are actually plentiful in the Earth’s crust but extremely difficult to mine and extract economically – including yttrium, lanthanum, terbium, neodymium, gadolinium and praseodymium.
Then there’s also the plastic, the glass, the battery… it’s a very long list of ingredients.
These are all present in relatively small amounts. But more than two billion people currently have a smartphone, and that number is projected to increase.
What’s more, the concentration of some of these elements, such as gold and silver in a mobile phone is actually much higher than their concentration in an equivalent weight of ore. One ton of iPhones would deliver 300 times more gold than a ton of gold ore and 6.5 times more silver than a ton of silver ore.
WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
Because those two billion smartphone users upgrade to a new phone roughly every 11 months, which means their old smartphone gets cast into a drawer somewhere and forgotten about, or it gets thrown out. Barely 10% of these get recycled and their precious components recovered and reused.
It’s a veritable goldmine sitting in cupboards, in boxes, in landfill. In an era when the prefix ‘peak’ is starting to be added to a whole lot of resources as well as oil, it makes economic and environmental sense to avoiding wasting such valuable substances.
How long does it take to get all the gold out?
Individuals can take apart a smartphone easily by hand, but the volume of gold is going to be small.
It’s not uncommon for a developing nation to accept all kinds of trash from developed nations, including electronics, in return for cash. Local entrepreneurs typically burn circuit boards and use cyanide on the ash to separate the gold. That’s not what anyone would call a green process, but it is a cottage industry because it gets the job done reasonably inexpensively.
Companies Like Sims Recycling Solutions—North America Use a mechanical process, shredding computer components to quarter-inch bits to liberate the plastic, aluminum, steel, gold and other materials to create commodity streams. Magnets grab the steel. Eddy currents are used to propel non-ferrous metals (including precious metals) from plastics.
Who knows – do it for long enough and you might well be able to build your own solid-gold, diamond encrusted smartphone.