Smartphones are made from rare earth elements. These include Lanthanum and Neodymium, the former give smartphone screens their smoothness and colour while the latter is used to make microphones, speakers and vibration units in the smartphone. Ninety-five percent of these rare come from one mine in China – the Bayan Obo mine. In reality, these rare minerals are not scarce, but they are called rare because of the difficulty in mining them. Extracting them requires complex chemical processes, which position the surrounding environment. While China is not the only country with deposits of these elements, it is the only one, which has shown willingness to extract these at the expense of environment.
A team of researchers in Cambridge have claimed to founder a safer way to extract rare earth elements (REEs), which does not involve poisonous and radioactive acid baths. Their method involves finding them as parts of other rocks and minerals through spectral signatures using remote sensors attached to light aircraft or satellite imaging. The team has already identified Greenland, western Australia, and Madagascar as potential places with deposits of these rare-earth minerals. A green future for the smartphones is not so distant anymore.