The periodic table is an arrangement of chemical elements in a tabular format. The placement of each chemical depends on certain properties. Based on these properties, a bunch of elements is given a specific category. The rows of the table are called periods and the columns are called groups.
Dmitri Mendeleev was the man responsible for the idea of the periodic table. Even though his arrangement of the elements was a little off, some of his predictions were completely on point. Due to this, he is referred to as the ‘Father of the Periodic Table’. Now, this should be enough for a brief introduction.
Ever heard of endangered elements? Probably not. Well just like when we talk about an endangered species, endangered elements are those that face supply limitations. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the element(s) in question will disappear from the face of the Earth. What it means is that there will come a point when the supply of the element will be dwarfed by the demand, or we will reach a point where it is no longer economically viable to extract or use the element(s) in question.
Out of the 118 elements that make up everything – from the compounds in a chemist’s shop to consumer products – 44 will face supply limitations in the coming years. These 44 elements are called the endangered elements. They include rare earth elements, precious metals and even life essentials like phosphorous.
Cause For Concern
For some elements, the risk is more serious than for others – there are 9 elements for which there is concern that there is a serious threat to their supply within the next 100 years and a further 7 for which there is a rising threat due to increased use. 100 years might seem like a lot but one must keep in mind that the numerous technologies and processes require the use of critically endangered elements like Zinc, Germanium etc. Finding a suitable alternative to replace these elements in most processes makes 100 years seem like a very short period of time.
What is even more surprising is that Helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, is also an endangered element! Why is this the case? It’s because helium is light. In fact, it’s too light. This means that it escapes the Earth’s atmosphere with ease. What does this mean? It means that the amount of helium on Earth is constantly being depleted. Some estimates also claim that we could have as little as 25 years of helium remaining, based on the current rates of use. For those of you who may not know, helium is used in MRI machines, supercooling magnets, and many other such things.
Some Endangered Elements
An example of endangered elements is catalysts. A number of endangered elements are used as catalysts in different environments and in different processes. For example, palladium and rhodium and even platinum are now endangered elements. What makes matters worse is that there still aren’t any good alternatives to these metals.
Rare earth elements too are endangered now. Rare earth elements aren’t actually rare (thank God!). They do have a wide variety of usage in electronic devices. Neodymium, for example, is used to make small albeit powerful magnets. Most headphones use neodymium and it’s also used in hard drives. The problem with rare earth elements isn’t their lack of abundance. The problem is isolating them. Generally, they tend to occur together and separating them is a task.