Will Precious Metals Disappear from Electronic Devices in the Coming Years?

In previous posts on this blog, we’ve discussed where to find gold in cellphones, computers, remote controls, and other electronic devices.  They all contain printed circuit boards that contain gold. But here’s an interesting question. As more advanced electronic devices come to market, will they still use gold, or will that stop? Are we now in a “golden age” when gold recycling from electronic devices can still be done – an age that will end?

Enter Graphene, a Miraculous Substance

Shown: Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. Image Credit: AlexanderAIUS, via Wikimedia Commons

Shown: Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms. Image Credit: AlexanderAIUS, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of “miracle” materials have appeared over the last century. There were nylon, Orlon and Teflon, to name only three. But the miraculous properties of those materials is dwarfed by those of graphene, a material that was developed by two physicists named Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselow. Graphene is actually a very thin, one-atom-thick layer of the same kind of graphite that is used in pencils.

Graphene has a lot of unbelievable properties that make it sound like something out of a science fiction fable. But first let’s state why it will probably revolutionize the manufacturing of electronic devices:

Graphene is an incredibly efficient conductor of electricity.

According to some estimates that I’ve read, it conducts electricity 20 times faster than copper does. It conducts electricity so well, in fact, the engineering challenge appears to be getting it to stop conducting electricity, not to improve its performance. And as you’ll discover when you read the following, graphene has the potential to create sci-fi-like electronic devices, like paper-thin cellphones that will fold up and fit in your wallet.

Here are some of graphene’s properties that are described in recent articles on CNN and elsewhere:

It can be manufactured in films that are only one atom thick – one ounce of the stuff could cover 28 football fields. It has been called “the world’s first two-dimensional substance.”

It is remarkably strong – according to some estimates, 20 times stronger than steel, but far lighter. People are predicting that it will soon find its way into structural parts of airplanes and cars.

It’s going to find applications in electrical devices – Scientists have already made electronic speakers, batteries, and other devices from the material. Now ultra-small microcircuits are being developed that will take advantage of its thinness and conductivity. Scientists envision that electronic devices like computers will be built into electronic clothing – there will be no need to tote around a separate laptop, cellphone or GPS device.

Development is happening fast – graphene could start to appear in commercial electronic devices in only a few years. 

What Will Graphene Mean for Gold Recycling?

We don’t have the ability to see the future, of course, but graphene has the potential to create electronic devices that incorporate a number of electronic circuits that once had to be connected together. That’s why it seems probable that today’s circuit boards will become outmoded.

Your old electronic devices will not become collectibles, but as escrap they will be valuable for the gold that they contain that can be recycled profitably by a qualified gold refiner.  What do you have lying around?

Related Posts:

A Brief History of Circuit Boards and the Gold They Contain
Where Is the Gold Hiding in Your Old Computers?
Do Tablet Computers Contain Recyclable Precious Metals
Watch the Gold You Can Recycle from Circuit Boards Pile Up in these Videos