Scientific American has an excellent piece on the minerals mined to make our iPhones. Including photos and a great infographic, the piece delves into the rare earth minerals we use for electronic devices and where they come from -- and at what cost.
It also looks at the Molycorp mine here in the US and the ways the company is trying to extract minerals in a less environmentally destructive way -- though how far the mining industry can really go to green its business is debatable.
What's unique about Molycorp is that it's trying to harvest rare-earth minerals in an environmentally friendly way, or at least as environmentally friendly a way as a mine can manage. The company has come up with a proprietary method that it believes is the answer to the toxic mess that's defined much of the world's rare-earth mining. And if Molycorp executives are correct, they may be modernizing rare-earth mining in a way that could force Chinese competitors to improve the way they operate.
There's little doubt the environmental cost of creating an iPhone, as well as those wind turbines, hybrid engines, and the bevy of other technical wonders that use rare-earth minerals, has been immense.
But regulatory pressure, coupled perhaps with the market forces of the new Molycorp mine, could be the start of a cleaner rare-earth mining industry.
The SA piece is very informative and sure to spark more questions, and it is well worth heading over to read in its entirety.