Reading: Energy Consumption on Earth

Two teenage girls looking at a cell phone while wearing headphones. One of the girls has a laptop on her lap.

What resources are in those electronics?

Everyone may realize that we use resources like trees, copper, water, and gemstones, but how many of us realize the tremendous variety of elements we need to make a single electronic device? A tablet computer with a touch screen contains many common chemical elements and a variety of rare earth elements.

Common Materials We Use from the Earth

People depend on natural resources for just about everything that keeps us fed and sheltered, as well as for the things that keep us entertained. Every person in the United States uses about 20,000 kilograms (40,000 pounds) of minerals every year for a wide range of products, such as cell phones, TVs, jewelry, and cars. Table 1 shows some common objects, the materials they are made from, and whether they are renewable or non-renewable.

Table 1. Common Objects We Use from the Earth
Common Object Natural Resources Uses Renewable or Non-Renewable?
Cars 15 different metals, such as iron, lead, and chromium to make the body. Non-renewable

Precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum.

Gems like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, turquoise.

Electronic Appliances (TV’s, computers, DVD players, cell phones, etc.) Many different metals, like copper, mercury, gold. Non-renewable

Soil to grow fibers such as cotton.

Sunlight for the plants to grow.

Animals for fur and leather.


Soil to grow plants.

Wildlife and agricultural animals.

Bottled Water

Water from streams or springs.

Petroleum products to make plastic bottles.

Non-renewable and Renewable
Gasoline Petroleum drilled from wells. Non-renewable
Household Electricity Coal, natural gas, solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power. Non-renewable and Renewable


Sunlight Soil


Trees for timber.

Rocks and minerals for construction materials, for example, granite, gravel, sand.

Non-renewable and Renewable


  • Many objects, such as a car, contain many types of resources.
  • Resources may be renewable or non-renewable, and an object may contain some of each.
  • Rare earth elements and other unusual materials are used in some electronic devices.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What do we use neodymium for?
  2. What are rare earth elements used for in general?
  3. Where do we get our REEs? Why are there signs that this can’t continue?
  4. Can we develop alternatives?
  5. What is the problem with the deposit of REEs that is offshore of Japan?
  6. What is the danger for the future?


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