Sustainability of another sort. When manufacturing components become diminished and in short supply, there is a need for concern and a need to pre-emptively seek out alternatives.
The element indium , or more specifically indium tin oxide ( ITO ), is used extensively in high tech screens. ITO’s ideal properties to become transparent plus its tremendous ability to conduct electricity, allows our mobile phones to be smarter, our TV flatscreens to be larger and our tablet computers to be more sleek. Availability of indium is decreasing and alternative have not tet taken hold in the manufacturing process. Graphene is a potential viable alternative.
So why have we not already moved from ITO to carbon?
Mark Hersam, a carbon nanotubes pioneer at Northwestern University in Illinois, believes we’re waiting for an industry tipping point. “There’s tremendous inertia in the electronics sector because the entire industry is modelled around ITO. Big companies like Apple are wedded to the ITO manufacturing processes and will need to invest substantially to start using carbon,” he says. However, as the price of indium goes up and it becomes harder to get hold of, there is likely to be a switch.”
With solar cells and electronics all competing for the same rare metal, industry is already under increasing pressure to start using a different material, whether that’s another metal oxide or novel carbon chicken-wire. Looking through the breathless coverage of the iPad 3 launch on my phone, one thing is for sure: our unwavering enthusiasm for touchscreen/display-screen technologies means we desperately need to find alternatives soon. ”