Africa minerals used in electronic devices

April 18, 2015

How smartphones and computers connected Africa, even in the most remote areas, is sure to be one of the most important imprints of this generation.The story does not end there as the devices that connect the different parts of Africa are also made of components assembled from different minerals found only in parts of Africa.Two decades ago, electronics was an exclusive affair for the richest countries.Think of Compact Disk players, Walkmans and PCs were made by and made for just a handful of countries like the Western European countries, Japan, Canada, and United States of America. This trade among themselves accounted for 40 percent of all trade in electronics whereas currently, developing countries are involved in three-quarters of all information and communication technology trade thanks to the rise of China, Taiwan and South Korea. Efficient logistics has made it possible for tech giants like HP, Apple and Microsoft to buy from specialized component suppliers wherever they are located whose main source of raw materials is Africa.One of the biggest winners of globalization is Africa. Its export of minerals used in making telecom, electronic devices have increased eighty percent in just ten years,and the openness of the global trading system is paramount to Africa’s economic development.In addition to the mining industry, ICT industry is now one of the most expansive employers in the continent, and accounting for average five percent of all the GDP-driven activities in Africa.

The recent proliferation of international trade agreements and the free trade agreements between Africa with individual countries like US, China and Japan is securing this economic boost.Customers of African minerals -made electronics are literally everywhere in the world, and lower tariffs for exporters to Africa are instrumental to more jobs and investments. Technological innovation has brought Africa wonderful new tools for modern life, but some experts believe supply is lagging behind demand for the rare minerals that make them possible.A recent report raises concerns about the future supply of minerals and says while few metals are in danger of complete physical depletion, many are becoming harder to extract in other parts of the World but in Africa that’s not the case.In the rugged central-western mountains of Democratic Republic of Congo, lies the largest richest reserve of lithium anywhere in Africa.Alongside the technological innovation of the last 10 years is the race to keep up with demand for minerals used in electronic devices, experts believe supply is lagging behind and Africa is their main hope to close the gap. Lithium is one such mineral and African has it in abundance.Indium is a trace element that has been in commercial use only in well over 15 years now and the demand for indium has been driven by the rapid up-take of flat-screen monitors and mobile phones that use LCD screens.In flat-panel devices such as LCDs and touch-screen mobiles, indium tin oxide is used as a thin coat around the screen. This thin layer of ITO conducts electricity away from the front panel – a technical innovation necessary for the trend towards touch-screen monitors.The problem is, indium is relatively scarce in the crust and wherever it does occur, it occurs in groups and so to your blogger’s knowledge, it is never mined directly for its own sake and it’s always a byproduct of something else.

U.S. Geological Survey 2011 noted that less than 600 tonnes of indium was refined in 2010, but says no indicators are available to say how much may be left in reserves around the world.It has been said that scientists are looking at Aluminium dope zinc oxide as an alternative to indium because it has got really high abundance and zinc has got really high abundance, so from that point, it’s not really an issue but again there are several African countries that have abundant Indium minerals but haven’t yet made it public.Tantalum is another element that has been increasingly mined for its usefulness in modern technology. It is used as a capacitor for mobile phones.In Africa, there is no shortage of tantalum, it is considered politically risky and tantalum mines in the Congo have been known to be run by militia rebels who mine illegally and exploit their miners. An increased interest in sustainable living has also contributed to demand for lithium and gallium. Rechargable lithium-iron batteries are beginning to replace nickel-cadmium batteries and are widely used in batteries for wireless devices, while gallium which is a byproduct of bauxite and zinc being used for solar cells and LED lights.A Geological Survey lists the total world reserves of lithium at 9,900,000 tonnes and more than half of it is said to be in Africa.Contador Harrison believes despite concern about the supply of minerals from Africa, consumer demand will drive commercial competitors to work together to come up with a solution.I think manufacturers and commercial competitors from China and Asia have realized to stay ahead of the game, they have to have the latest technology and if there’s a problem with the material, they need to find something better or a solution which both are found in Africa.The mineral reserves of Africa are vast, diverse, and of high quality. A spirit of dynamic innovation in the development of new extraction and processing technologies is also ensuring the continent gains the most from this natural wealth.

Contador Harrison