Will Shortages Unplug Flat-Screen Industry?

The scarcity of gallium will put a strain on televisions and other consumer electronics.

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We do everything we can to save the pandas: They're cute. But cute is not a word we'd use to describe the latest additions to the endangered list: the elements gallium, indium, hafnium, zinc, and copper. According to Peak Oil News (via Asimov's), the decline of these elements will be due to their use in flat-screen TVs, computer chips, and monitors. Time is running out quickly: Armin Reller of Germany's University of Augsberg says that gallium, which we extract from zinc and aluminum, will be gone by 2017. Zinc has more time but not by much—Reller estimates it will be extinct by 2037.

But extinct may not be the most accurate term. A commenter on Andrew Sullivan's blog points out that once we've mined the last of each element, they'll still exist, but just in products like your TV. The trick will be developing a cost-efficient recycling method.

So what does this mean for your home theater system? In a Wall Street Journal article, scientists express fear that the shortage will shelve plans for promising new technology and inventions, like a new design for solar panels.

The Tech Lounge is optimistic that advancements in recycling and the development of synthetic versions of these elements will keep flat-screen TVs glowing in our living rooms for years to come. Either that, or we'll find a gallium-free way to get our entertainment. Technology adapts to our resources. As one commenter on the Crossed Pond (via Ars Technica) put it: "We are nearly out of whale oil, yet we don't lack for indoor lighting."