I'm always blown away when I remember that every single one of the raw materials that goes into making an iPhone or iPad has existed on this planet for hundreds of millennia.
Just think about that for a second. When Neanderthals roamed the earth, and when the Roman emperors ruled -- all the raw materials needed for an iPhone or iPad were already available. However, just because you have the raw materials available, doesn't mean you have the knowledge or technology to build such wondrous devices -- that's what time and progress are for (and Steve Jobs).
But once you have the knowledge and materials, look what you can create: solar panels, iPads, MRI machines. Oh, the wonders! Of course the problem with raw materials is consumption. As our technology advances and we consume more raw materials, there's less of them left on the earth to keep making cool devices like the iPhone. This is especially true for a group of raw materials -- mainly certain types of metal -- known as rare earths.
Rare earths are used in any number of electronic devices from iPhones to batteries to lasers. And they're called "rare" for a reason -- they aren't abundant and we are running out of them. China currently controls 97% of rare earth production, but the US, Russia, and Australia also produce rare earths. Despite who controls the production, the simple fact is that we are running our of rare earth metals and once gone, say goodbye to future electronic devices. It's great if Apple comes up with a way to make the iPad 6 have a tactile 3D holographic display, but if there's no more rare earths left to build the parts it needs everyone is gonna be stuck using the iPad 5 -- forever.
Even though we are running out of rare earths on land, Nature Geoscience is reporting that rare earth materials are abundant in the mud of the Pacific ocean floor. Best of all, mining and extracting the rare earth metals from the sea floor mud is apparently actually easier than extracting the metals from terrestrial sources. That's great news for everyone who likes technology. So in a few years when you pick up your new iPhone, stop to think for a moment and wonder at the fact that parts of that iPhone were once buried in mud on the bottom of the sea floor.
[via Ars Technica]