Will Future ICT Product Availability Be Threatened by Resource Insecurity?
ICT gear depends on materials whose supply is increasingly affected by environmental and political factors. This gives rise to a complex set of issues ranging from resource scarcity to conflict minerals.
A 2011 "circular economy" report on UK resource security from Green Alliance delivered a message to all countries. "…the majority of insecure metals being used in mobile phones, televisions and computers are being disposed as waste...in the face of rising global competition for their supply…A number of metals including lithium for computer batteries, indium for LCD televisions and palladium for mobile phones are now considered ‘insecure’ by international experts."
A 2015 paper from Yale University (New Haven-USA) deepens our understanding. "... supply limits for many metals critical in the emerging electronics sector (including gallium and selenium) are the result of supply risks. The environmental implications of mining and processing present the greatest challenges with platinum-group metals, gold, and mercury. For steel alloying elements (including chromium and niobium) and elements used in high-temperature alloys (tungsten and molybdenum), the greatest vulnerabilities are associated with supply restrictions. Among the factors contributing to extreme criticality challenges are high geopolitical concentration of primary production (for example, 90 to 95 percent of the global supply of rare Earth metals comes from China); lack of available substitutes (there is no adequate substitute for indium, which is used in computer and cell phone displays); and political instability (a significant fraction of tantalum, used widely in electronics, comes from the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo)."
Tantalum from the Congo is an example of what are called 'conflict minerals'. Electronics manufacturers are increasingly auditing their supply chains to avoid trafficking in these materials.
Image courtesy of Enough Project