Metals are commonly used along with other materials like plastic in electronics and technology.
In this guide, we outline metals used in different types of electronics and technology products, and metals that might be in demand in the future with new technology.
Summary – Metals Used In Electronics & Technology
Metals are used in common everyday electronics, defence force technology, renewable energy technology, energy storage technology, and other major applications
Metals have been used specifically in electronics and technology devices like in laptops, computers, phones, printed circuit boards, and keyboards, batteries, and cars for a while now
Some of the most common metals used in technology are are rare earth metals, metals produced in lower quantities, and metals produced as a product of mining other primary metals
Some of the metals that are forecast to be in the highest demand in the future for electronics and technology are tin, lithium, cobalt, silver, nickel, gold, tungsten, vanadium, graphite, niobium, zinc, PGM and salt (for autonomous and electric vehicles, advanced robotics, renewable energy, advanced computing and IT, and so on)
There is a lot of data out there that suggests there is a lot of metal that could be recycled and recovered from e waste that currently isn’t being recovered. The value of that metal could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars
What Are Technology & Electronic Metals?
Metals that might be classified as technology type metals are generally used in:
The mass production of miniaturized electronics and associated devices;
Advanced weapons systems and platforms for national defense;
The generation of electricity using ‘alternative’ sources such as solar panels and wind turbines;
The storage of electricity using cells and batteries.
Production Of Technology Metals
techmetalsresearch.com has a table that shows the production quantities of technology metals.
What can be seen is that they are mostly:
Rare earth metals
Produced in lower quantities
And, are mined as by-products of other metals
Metals Used In Computers, Laptops, SmartPhones/Mobiles, & Circuit Boards
Old Computers – Gold (a key part of most circuit boards) … the power supply has an iron core inside … Silver and palladium make up the solder and components of many circuit boards … steel makes up part of the outer casing … Gold-plated pins and connectors run throughout the machine, as well … Copper makes up the connective wires.
Phones – cell phones alone contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc.
Printed Circuit Boards – contain copper, gold, silver, and palladium
Keyboards, Personal Computers, Printed Circuit Boards and Car Electronics – have precious metals and also Silver, gold, copper, zinc, nickel, bismuth, iron and antimony are present in all four devices listed.
Modern Computers – The metals contained in PC’s commonly include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, gallium, gold, iron,lead, manganese, mercury, palladium, platinum, selenium, silver, and zinc.
Laptops are made of:
Mainly plastic, but also…
The Body – aluminum, steel and elements carbon and nickel. Copper is a substantial component of laptops used in wiring on circuit boards and to connect electrical components.
Laptop Battery – The most common lithium-ion batteries contain [lithium and] cobalt, oxygen and carbon.
Laptop Trace Materials – Silicon is used to manufacture microchips. The optical components in laptop screens can include indium, gallium and arsenic. Solder is made up of multiple metals, such as tin and bismuth. Internal motors contain tiny magnets comprised of neodymium. A few electronic components have minute quantities of precious metals such as gold or platinum.
Metals Used In Lithium Ion Batteries
Lithium Ion Batteries:
In most batteries, the critical metals include lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel.
Metals In Military & Weaponry Technology & Electronics
Metals used in military weapons, and electronic weapons systems:
Generally rely on rare earth metals
Examples are permanent magnet materials, i.e. samarium cobalt (SmCo), and neodymium iron boron (NdFeB)
They are used in technology like precision-guided missiles, smart bombs, and aircraft
Specific examples of rare earth metal use are … (1) fin actuators in missile guidance and control systems, controlling the direction of the missile; (2) disk drive motors installed in aircraft, tanks, missile systems, and command and control centers; (3) lasers for enemy mine detection, interrogators, underwater mines, and countermeasures; and (4) components of satellite communications, radar, and sonar on submarines and surface ships; and optical equipment and speakers.
Other examples of rare or precious metals used are … dysprosium, neodymium, samarium, terbium, yttrium, erbium, europium, indium, rhenium, iridium, tantalum, tellurium, and many others.
Regular metals are also used in vehicles and aircrafts for strength (steel), and to make vehicles (in the air, in water and on land) lighter
Metals In Electrical Vehicles & Electric Vehicle Batteries, & Renewable Energy
Read more in this guide:
Metals Forecasted To Be In Demand In New Technology
Metals that are forecast to be impacted most by new technology and electronics (in order of most demand starting from the top):
PGM (Pt, Pd)
The technologies that will have the new demand are autonomous and electric vehicles, advanced robotics, renewable energy, and advanced computing and IT.
Metal Scrap In Regular Electronic Devices
By looking at the metal scrap in regular electronic device waste, we can get an idea of the metals used in these devices.
But also, we can get an idea of how much more potential there is to recycle and re-use these metals compared to mining new metals.
We might look to ways to make metal recycling more cost effective, efficient and easier (with products designed for recycling) to preserve metal resources in the future.