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Rare Earth Elements

Rare Earth Elements (2015)

Rolf Sudmann (Germany)

Installation of a raised garden bed, mobile telephones, metal

A high security crop of 17 mobile telephones are growing in the raised bed before you.

17 telephone numbers  for 17 rare earth elements.

Dial the numbers at no cost to find out what these wonders of nature can do for you.

Rare Earth Elements are a group of 17 elements, whose special magnetic, phosphorescent, and catalytic properties are central to technological advances in x-ray devices, aircrafts, and lasers to green technologies such as wind turbines and electric cars.  Nine different rare elements can be found in an iPhone alone, used for the color screen, the phone’s circuitry, the speakers, and the vibration unit.

Technically speaking, rare earth elements are not rare at all, but rather they are diffuse and not easily extracted from the earth. The environmental impacts of the extraction process are high, due to large amounts of toxic   waste products including radioactivity.

China is currently the world’s leading producer and consumer of Rare Earth Elements, responsible for 95% of production in 2010.  A monopoly on precious resources generates  geo-political power.  This year China finally eliminated export quotas for Rare Earth Elements, whose fluctuations throughout the past decade created a nervous market and inspired many countries to reduce their reliance.

Recycling processes are being developed to harvest rare earth elements from electrical and electronic waste known as WEEE. The trend towards smaller chips will mean a reduction in of the use of rare earth elements, but also a more difficult and costly waste extraction process.  Intelligent product design, which plans for the recycling of rare earth elements s is crucial.


Photo credit: CC Terence Wright@Flickr

Posted April 15, 2015 in: Art by Ein Hektar

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