Why Researchers Pulverized an iPhone in a Blender


Researchers at the University of Plymouth wanted to take a deeper dive into the materials used to make smartphones, so they pulverized an iPhone.

Perhaps taking a page out of Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" series, the research team first took an iPhone and dropped it in a blender to grind it into a mix of coarse materials and fine dust.

The team took the dust and cooked it to a molten state that was then dissolved and analyzed in a mass spectrometer. The method behind the madness is that consumers might change their buying habits if they had a better understanding of what's inside their devices — and where the materials came from. The researchers wanted to find out how many rare or "conflict" elements are sourced in each phone as a way to encourage e-waste recycling and bring about a better understanding of the shifting demands in the mining industry.

The iPhone was a mix of critical elements and abundant substances. The tests found tungsten and cobalt (which often comes from African conflict zones), as well as molybdenum, neodymium, and praseodymium. The phone also contained silver, gold, iron, silicon, and chromium.

The researchers concluded that to create just one phone, 22-33 pounds of ore needs to be mined.

While various new e-waste recycling operations have continued to pop up, like the Out of Use company in Belgium, which has found a way to pull about 90% of the raw materials from electronic waste, the researchers say that the mining operations required to extract these materials put a “significant strain on the planet.”

Every year, about 1.4 billion mobile phones are manufactured, approximately 2 billion are sold, and electronics still make up about 70% of the toxic waste in landfills. The researchers hope that this information will help consumers make more informed decisions.

Image Credit: University of Plymouth

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