Skip to main content

Rare material shortage will stifle innovation

Innovation is at risk from a lack of rare materials that are present in many modern pieces of technology and replacements are thin on the ground.

Researchers at Yale University, led by Professor Thomas Graedel, produced a report that looked at the use of 62 metals or metalloids regularly found in modern technology and discovered that none of them have an alternative that performs equally as well.

“We have shown that metal substitution is very problematic. Substitution would need to mimic these special properties—a real challenge in many applications,” said Graedel, according to ArsTechnica.

Of the 62 metals that the report looked at, 12 didn’t even have an alternative and Andrea Sella from University College London thinks it’s “an important wake-up call” for the technology industry.

There are also significant worries that natural disasters could have a hugely detrimental effect on the supply of the metals used in devices and the BBC reported as recently as April 2012 from Thailand as to the effect floods in the country had on the technology supply chain.

“A national disaster or extended political turmoil in any of them would significantly ripple throughout the material world in which we live,” said Graedel.

The largest and widest collections of valuable metals are held in China, the US, South Africa, Australia, Congo, and Canada. China made headlines in 2010 when it restricted the export of rare metals and that caused prices to increase five fold at the time and pushed companies to consider reopening up rare earth mines.

"As wealth and population increase worldwide in the next few decades, scientists will be increasingly challenged to maintain and improve product utility by designing new and better materials, but doing so under potential constraints in resource availability," the report concluded, according to the BBC.

Image Credit: Flickr (intelfreepress)