Endangered Elements

The periodic table of endangered elements

What are Endangered Elements?

Of the 118 elements that make up everything—from the compounds in a chemist’s arsenal to consumer products on the shelf—44 will face supply limitations in the coming years. These critical elements include rare earth elements, precious metals, and even some that are essential to life, like phosphorus.

Download an enlarged image of the Periodic Table's Endangered Elements  

How Do Endangered Elements Relate to Green Chemistry?

Endangered elements in the chemical enterprise face critical supply risks, making sustainable management of their extraction, use, reuse and dispersion essential. In addition to the environmental cost of extracting and processing endangered elements, there is, for some of these materials, an additional human cost of conflict minerals mined to finance armed disputes. Research into more abundant alternatives, more efficient uses, recycling and recovery will help mitigate risks and move industry towards sustainable supply chains.

Focus Principles

  • Use of Renewable Feedstocks - Ideally, we would use only raw materials and feedstocks that are renewable rather than depending on and depleting finite resources like the “endangered elements”
  • Maximize Resource Efficiency – Knowing that resources in the earth’s crust are limited, green chemists can design products that use abundant materials and that can be easily recycled

Examples of Reducing Dependence on Endangered Chemicals

While not yet commercially implemented, recent research has investigated the use of graphene and carbon nanomaterials as a substitute for scarce materials in a variety of applications. Scientists at Chalmers University, for example, identified 14 metals whose use could be significantly reduced if replaced with carbon nanotubes. There is a growing body of research that indicates significant potential for graphene-based catalysts to replace, or at least minimize, our dependence on platinum, palladium, rhodium and other endangered elements.

Another active area of research is biocatalysis. In some cases, such as in fuel cells and electrocatalysis, bacterial enzymes have shown potential as replacements for critical materials.

This research was conducted by the Chemical Innovation Knowledge Transfer Network.

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