Why it matters: There are over 1.4 billion smartphones produced every year, but have you ever wondered what goes into these tiny computers in our pockets? To show the various chemical elements that make up a handset, scientists threw an iPhone into a blender and performed some tests on the resulting mess.
The experiment was carried out by geologists Dr. Arjan Dijkstra and Dr. Colin Wilkins from the UK’s University of Plymouth. In addition to showing what’s inside your typical phone, it’s hoped that the project will encourage more companies to embrace recycling.
The old, battery-free iPhone was blended down before being mixed with a powerful oxidizer (sodium peroxide) at around 500 degrees Celsius (approx. 932 degrees Fahrenheit). The resulting solution was dissolved in acid, thereby allowing a detailed analysis of the chemical elements to be carried out.
The results showed the phone contained plenty of common substances: 3g of iron, 13g of silicon, and 7g of chromium. But it was also packed with some rarer elements, including 900 mg of tungsten, 70 mg of cobalt, 90 mg of silver, and 36 mg of gold.
"This means that concentration-wise, a phone has 100 times more gold - or 10 times more tungsten - than a mineral resource geologists would call 'high-grade'," wrote Alan Williams, the University of Plymouth’s media and communications officer.
The report states that creating just one phone would require the mining of “0-15 kg of ore, including 7 kg of high-grade gold ore, 1 kg of typical copper ore, 750 g of typical tungsten ore, and 200 g of typical nickel ore.”
“We rely increasingly on our mobile phones, but how many of us actually think what is behind the screen? When you look the answer is often tungsten and cobalt from conflict zones in Africa,” said Dijkstra.
An increasing number of phone companies are committing to using more recycled parts in their products, and it’s hoped the video will encourage people and firms to be more eco-friendly.