Low Supply of Rare Metals May Affect Technology

March 5, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. scarce (adj.) – rare; insufficient in supply
Example: The cost of rice has increased because of scarce supplies.

2. hitchhiker (n.) – (in the mining industry) metals and minerals which are by-products of mining other metals such as copper, aluminum and zinc 
Example: Hitchhiker metals are produced after copper is mined.  

3. physicist (n.)- a scientist who specializes in Physics
ExamplePhysicists can explain the movement of light.

4. conserve (v.) – to use carefully to avoid losing or wasting something
ExampleConserve your energy so you can finish your work.

5. refine (v.) – to make something pure by removing the parts which cannot be used
Example: Sugar is refined by removing soil and plant parts from sugar cane.

Read the text below.

The global electronic industry is facing a shortage of rare metals used to make consumer electronics and clean energy technologies. As a result, experts hope to find ways of recycling such materials.

Gallium, indium, selenium are among the scarce metals needed to make today’s in-demand electronics, including lasers, energy-saving LED lighting, LCD screens, solar panels and smartphones.

These “hitchhiker” metals, as they are called, are only produced as a result from the mining of other metals, such as aluminum, copper and zinc. Because these metals are only by-products, increasing their supply is difficult.

At the Royal Society conference in London, physicist and economist Robert Ayres said that raising the prices of hitchhiker metals will also not increase their production. He talked about how it is more important to conserve, recycle and if possible find substitutes for these metals.

According to the US Geological Survey, the US had to depend on the $66 million worth of overseas metal imports to satisfy demand for gallium in 2011. Yet most of the products made from hitchhiker metals are eventually thrown away in landfills, said Ayres. In contrast, only one company, located in Utah, locally refined gallium from scrap metal.

Ayres also stressed that the low supply of rare metals may mean less development of clean energy technologies like solar panels, which especially make use of hitchhiker metals. As such, he challenged both governments and industries to establish a standard recycling process that could conserve or make rare metals reusable.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Is recycling a common practice in your community? Why is it so?
·         How can the government encourage people to recycle?

Discussion B

·         How can we control the production of electronic gadgets to avoid shortage of rare metals?
·         What do you think is the best solution to this problem?


March 5, 2012