Tag Archives: Mobile phone

Recycle Rare Earth & Renew Energy

Through this article I would once more attempt to join the dots which would perhaps lead us to practice sustainability as naturally as breathing. To do this each of us must be able to co-relate as how seemingly diverse things dove-tail to one conclusion. The modern humans insatiable need, which without being tempered by understanding at the basic level would not lead us towards the very Millennium Development Goals we aspire Using just one product, my attempt is to put forth an idea, which used as a datum could hopefully be applied over a vast field of products by those who are more capable.

“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development — from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte said in a press statement. “The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”

A July 2012 report – Approximately three-quarters of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone, according to a new study from the World Bank. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has sky-rocketed over the past 12 years. Fewer than 1 billion mobile subscriptions were active in 2000, while there are six billion subscriptions active today. Last year alone, mobile users downloaded more than 30 billion apps. A study by the World Bank and infoDev titled “Information and Communications for Development 2012” found that worldwide mobile subscriptions grew from less than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion. And mobile subscriptions in low and middle-income countries increased by more than 1,500 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 4 to 72 per 100 inhabitants.

Reading – Digging for rare earths: The mines where iPhones are born About 60 miles southwest of Las Vegas, in a mine some 500 feet deep, the beginnings of an iPhone come to life.But the sleek, shiny iPhone is far, far removed from the rocks pulled out of this giant hole, which looks like a deep crater on the moon. A very deep crater. The ground is covered with rust-colored boulders, rocks, and pebbles. The walls etched with striations in varying shades of black, are notched, every 75 feet or so, creating steps that only a giant could use to climb out of the pit….Inside the rocks from this mine are rare-earth minerals, crucial ingredients for iPhones, as well as wind turbines, hybrid cars, and night-vision goggles. Minerals such as neodymium are used in magnets that make speakers vibrate to create sound.….

As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements (“REEs”) or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.Despite their name, rare earth elementsare relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as rare earth minerals in economically exploitable ore deposits. It was the very scarcity of these minerals (previously called “earths”) that led to the term “rare earth”.

We pause at the word – typically dispersed and not often found concentrated in economically exploitable ore deposit.and the words of World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.-..”to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications”..

Sustainable development as we know requires the principle of the three “P”s – Planet – People – Profit fitting perfectly with the four “R”s Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – Recover (energy).

  1. Wherever possible, waste reduction is the preferable option.
  2. If waste is produced, every effort should be made to reuse it if practicable.
  3. Recycling is the third option in the waste management hierarchy. Although recycling does help to conserve resources and reduce wastes, it is important to remember that there are economic and environmental costs associated with waste collection and recycling. For this reason, recycling should only be considered for waste which cannot be reduced or reused.
  4. Finally, it may be possible to recover materials or energy from waste which cannot be reduced, reused or recycled.

Empirical evidence suggests that by practising waste prevention, reusing products, recycling, and making environmentally conscious purchases, businesses can cut costs and increase profits. Cost savings take the form of:

  • Lower waste disposal costs;
  • Lower waste treatment costs;
  • Lower energy costs;
  • Savings on materials and supplies;
  • A reduction in regulatory compliance costs;
  • Lower storage costs;
  • Cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials;
  • Cost recovery through sales of 4Rs technologies.

Now let us add two more” R”s – Refuse and Rethink.

While we all are attempting to practice sustainability, that it has still not percolated down to the grass roots is because we as a collective of Sustainable practitioners are yet to join the dots in a simplistic fashion. And unless we do so, the ground swell of awareness and true sustainable practice which is balanced with modern life-style will elude us. The concept of Sustainability can not be a placard which one can paste on the door of the office. It has to be from within us. The society as a whole must adopt sustainability in their consciousness. The Peoples must be identified as such; just as we associate Precision = German / Swiss; Adaptive = Indians;  Disciplined = Japanese; and other cultural stereotypes; the world as a whole must adopt it as a culture.

We as modern humans are so trapped in our system that while we say Sustainable Development, in the same breadth we also look to encourage Countries to develop Mobile Applications, without pausing to think that the very popularity and success of these applications would lead to another explosion of growth in manufacturing of Mobile phones and thus from 6 Billion in 2012 we would perhaps cross the 12 Billion mark in half the time it took us to reach the first 6 Billion.

From a World Bank perspective that is Sustained growth. From an Sustainable Development Goal, it is a prelude to doom, as the miners rub their hands with glee whilst ripping out the “rare earth” from the bosom of Earth and lay waste vast tracts of land. Which would take a Millennium to sustain itself again. No better anti- thesis can be found for the term Millennium Development than this.

So is the euphoria at the World Bank on the reach of the cell phone right to the grass-roots misplaced ? The answer is a resounding NO! Right from Disease Response; Education Through Games; Monitoring Government Accountability;  and Disaster Response; cell phones have a very positive impact and this achievement is set to grow over time.

But it becomes a little too much when Preserving the Rainforest as mentioned in the link is added to support it. The crony capitalism becomes evident. Although the very same mobile telephony can be used to create greater awareness on climate change. This boon itself is a curse, should we not also not make Mandatory for all mobile phone manufacturers to create a reverse supply chain management to recall each and every cell phone; when its stipulated usage life is over. 

And to believe that the people would do this out of altruism would be the biggest folly. One would rather have someone at e-bay buy it, than s/he walk down and put it into the recycle bin for free. That is how we all are. We are a market society conditioned by a market economy and we all are buyers and sellers. We can do nothing positive (or negative) unless we can see tangible benefits (profit) for ourselves.

While we teach our children the advantage of the R’s ( Learning the 4 R’s :Recycling and Rubbish Exhibit (R.A.R.E.) program teaches kids to reduce, reuse, recycle and rot ) why is it that the Corporates not adopting it. Or rather why is it that the UN unable to make it mandatory for all corporates to follow the rules, by declaring a resolution at the United Nations Security Council ? As in my last article, I firmly believe post the devastating Hurricane Sandy that Climate change become an agenda for the Security council rather than the UNFCCC.

That the 4 R’s has distinct advantages has already been highlighted earlier in this article. If we just take the advantages – Savings on materials and supplies; Cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials; and apply it to just the cell phones let us see what we get.

English: Global rare earth element production ...

English: Global rare earth element production from 1950 through 2000, colored to indicate source. (1 kt=106 kg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Mobile phone is made Gold, Silver, Tantalum, Platinum, Palladium, Lead, Tin, Copper, Plastic, Glass, Steel, Aluminium, Silicon etc. Coltan is used to make the SIM card. Now if we assume that in a year at least 50% of the 6 Billion Mobile phone users world wide change their handsets, the savings on material supplies and cost recovery through the sale of recyclable materials would be handsome.

What if this recall of Mobile phones is driven by one of the many arms of the UN, with active support from the NGO’s who have the depth of reach into the hinterlands of the developing world? NGO’s which are truly altruistic and would surely give value for money deals to the rural poor. And at the same time convince the city dwellers to also partake through school programs in this novel recovering of the Natural resources.

There is already a stellar example of this form Nokia, The need of the hour is that more people know about it and start doing something similar. And this is where the failure of the popular media to take up a cause which is really worth-while is completely underscored. And it also shows how less traction the UN gives to promote ingenious concepts, leaving it at the mercy of market forces which are hostile to change. A market based society can only look at every thing from its skewed logic of economics, which is responsible for the mess we are in today.

Nokia’s ‘Remade’ Cell Phone Made Of Recycled Materials – In February 13, 2008 Nokia’s CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo unveiled Remade at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. The idea was to create mobile phones that cause less of a strain on natural resources, while reducing landfill and increasing energy-efficient production. A concept phone called “Remade,” which would be built almost entirely out of recycled materials. Phones based on the Remade concept were to be made out of metals from aluminium cans and plastics from drink bottles. Materials from old car tires would make up the phones’ rubber key mats. The phones were also to use environment-friendly technologies, including printed electronics and display graphics that save energy.

Map showing the estimated thickness of the Wor...

Map showing the estimated thickness of the World’s crust (km) (Photo credit:

The above example shows how Corporate responsibility if truly applied can create a sea-change in how we look at our resources and develop sustainable ways to live our lives without sacrificing the comforts of modernity. I wish we would be able to see more companies follow. We must understand that our ability to sustain and survive depends on how we care for the planet. If we continue to create great wound ( mines ) on the skin of the Planet, somewhere and somehow there is bound to be effects which we can not fathom at present. And if we don’t think on those lines soon, it might just be too risky a situation later.

“Remade” is simply a concept for now and not a commercial product, but it demonstrates what can be done using nearly no new materials to build a mobile phone, said Nokia’s spokeswoman.

The above speech needs to change thus – “Remade is now being provided funds from the UN sponsored Global Climate Fund and we would encourage more companies to submit their ideas to avail the funding & market support (through mandatory resolutions passed) required to make their sustainable products economically viable” – a hypothetical spokesperson of the UN.



Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Global Warming & Climate Change, My Thoughts


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Solar Laptop & Mobile : In your store by next summer?

Last weekend I was invited by BITS Goa Campus ( Birla Institute of Technology ) to give a talk on innovative business strategy in Clean Tech. It was organized by the students with their campus fest aptly named – Quark. G-Con as the green conference to which I was called is being held for the first time by the students. That this event was  to be taken seriously impacted me almost immediately upon being introduced to my co-panelists. Personalties, each with a body of work so profound, Ms Rishu Nigam -TERI, moderator Ms. Juhi Chaudhry of  CNN-IBN, reporter on everything related to environment;  and then the stars  Mr.Ravi Kuchimanchi ; Dr. Ritesh Arya; D.T. Barki; Mr. Atul Gurtu; people who have placed India on the world map with their thoughts and deeds.

Sitting among them, I was inspired and awed. And what inspired me more were the young and brilliant students of BITS, the future of India. This inspiration led me to ask both the students and the eminent personalities to devise a  model to propagate  the clean tech ideas which came into my mind, while listening to fellow panelists.

Self powered Lap-top. An inventor like Mr. Barki could devise surely a solar jacket for the Lap-tops which all the students carry. Imagine if a continuous power could be fed into a lap-top, unplugged and at 90%  battery, via Photo voltaic cells pasted on to the surface therefore unfettered, sensitive as a Casio calculators power panel, so even the ambient light within a room is sufficient? Even if it would be generating power say just 30% in total, it would still increase the battery driven operation time and at the same time reduce the need to plug it to a grid source. Scale it to a Billion laptops in use every hour which can produce 30% power, it is a respectable number in terms of GHG reduction. And when it comes to R&D surely another fellow panelist Mr. Raghvan, GM of Mahindra Solar;  a branch of the blue chip Green Company Mahindra; with international presence and owner of Satyam would like to do a dekho ( hindi; for -look ).

The same could be the fate of the future cell phones, why need a separate charger if one could integrate a semi-circular disk which winds a spring, which in turn applies pressure and excites a quartz ( ) and thus produces a small amount of charge, every time one moves? Remember the old Swiss  wrist watches – the automatic ones ? One never needed to wind it up. This was before cells were born into this world – small made of steel and having a cadmium heart; to be discarded without thought while the Earth is torn open to find more iron ore and methods sought to stop rivers to be poisoned by cadmium.  Coming back to a greener thought – could this be incorporated within the “hostler” that holds the mobile phone? Adding that small amount of charge that keeps the battery from going dead just when you need it most. Perhaps can be even a life-saver; all that a lost trekker needs to do is keep shaking it while making the S.O.S call. Will it save the Earth, count the number of chargers charging the phones around you, as you are reading this and multiply that with infinity – you can bet it would !  And yes perhaps the makers of the next Green Laptop / Cell phone could integrate this piezoelectric  right into the keyboards .  Is  Samsung /Sony / HP / Dell listening ?

Megalopolis like Mumbai has the perpetual problem of sewerage and power. Dr. Ritesh Arya could solve both with his path breaking solution to use the slush to produce steam and run a turbine. And this can be done anywhere as Lava is just under your feet!  Mumbai has its own at Ganeshpuri, then there is  Surajkund and many others, powering India could become limitless. And as the energy needs come form an infinite limitless source called – magma, the World is invited to dip there steel straws into the Earth core and drink aplenty. GHG can be contained. And very much before 2020. Will UNFCCC  at the Rio+20 advocate this for the GCF ?

Simple ideas are most profound and that came from Ravi Kuchimanchi in form of a hay box ( click on this link to see it ). Now, that  led me to think. This can lead to reduction of LGP gas use in the cities. How ? Simple. Ask  the  insulated hot box manufacturers  to design the same and market it. India today loses millions due to subsidy on domestic LPG and other fuel. If even 5% of the overall LPG use can be reduced, the figure would be large. (An amount which can perhaps be pumped back on rural development.) And it is always seen that once you give an innovation which is popular, the people innovate uses which could not have been thought by the inventor.

And speaking of India, a country of – jugaard ( loosely translated – rustic innovation ) one never knows what the next best thing could be.

Note: this article are for all those young minds, who need to understand that for a better world, one does not have to invent the wheel. Just add the wheel to the cart you make. 

A special thanks to the G-con team, especially – Soumaya, Madhuri, Ananaya, Gaurav, Sahil who helped me think this article.



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