Innovation and technology Sustainability

Endangered elements: Why mining matters now more than ever

3 min read / April 23, 2019 / Leah Harnack


This year is the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev’s discovery of the periodic system as it’s known today, so UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has declared 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

As part of the official launch, scientists developed a new periodic table that highlights the scarcity of elements used in everyday devices, such as smartphones. This table was developed by The European Chemical Society, which represents more than 160,000 chemists, to highlight the importance and vulnerability of the elements and was launched at the European Parliament in January.

As part of the launch of the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, a new periodic table was created, offering a visual highlight of the scarcity of elements essential in everybody’s daily life.

The periodic table we commonly use today orders the elements in groups where each element has similar properties and in rows where different shells of electrons are being filled. The elements appear in order of their atomic number – the number of protons in the nucleus.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) created the most used and up-to-date Periodic Table. More information available at

The new periodic table – The 90 Natural Elements that Make Up Everything – is color-coded and illustrates the availability of the elements. It shows which elements are being consumed very quickly and the availability is becoming increasingly scarce, some are becoming increasingly difficult to harvest, and others that are being mined in countries where wars are fought over the ownership of mineral rights and are often mined in very poor conditions.

While we don’t “run out” of a particular element, the challenge is the scarcity of elements. They get dispersed and more difficult to harvest and/or recycle. There’s a major initiative toward tracing “the life” of elements, from mining through purification, termed traceability, which follows the elements into components for the manufacture of goods, sales, resales and to what happens to the goods when they become waste. In a circular economy, used consumer goods are repaired, reused and recycled.

Made Possible by Mining

Mining often doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and many people don’t understand the ways it makes a positive impact in their everyday lives. This new periodic table brings to light the many minerals people use daily, without them realizing it.

Minerals are essential, irreplaceable components for the things we use daily, for transportation, our health, our food supply, communication, and energy. Many people don’t realize, if it’s not grown, it’s mined – emphasizing the reality of minerals being used in everything around us. 

Our customers extract minerals necessary to power modern society and we look for ways to share the message about how our equipment and services help extract fundamental minerals that are the backbone to people’s lives and how it’s being done in increasingly sustainable ways. 

We want our customers to know we understand the importance of what they do and reinforce their role as valued members of society. The Made Possible by Mining campaign is one way we’ve done that through a series of messages that highlight how many plays an integral role in common, everyday objects, many don’t even think about.

video that highlights how a tablet couldn’t exist without essential, mined minerals provides a glimpse into the extraction and utilization of copper in today’s electronics.

Move Mining is an online competition designed to change the perception of the mining industry, produced by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, & Exploration and the Minerals Education Coalition. We sponsor this open competition that encourages anyone – professionals, students and the general public – to bring to life how the mining industry impacts every aspect of our lives.

Competitors submit a short video and a 1-page abstract of their idea. The finalists are required to submit a 3- to 4-page paper and 3-minute video and then present it at a live presentation at the SME Annual Conference & Expo. The shark-tank-style live event brings excitement and intrigue to the final concepts as they share their ideas on educating and promoting the power of mining.

The live event will take place on Monday, February 25, 2019, at 4:30 p.m. MST and will be shared through live Facebook streaming.

You can follow us on Twitter at @KomatsuMining and can follow the International Year of the Periodic Table at #IYPT2019 to keep up with how you can help in conserving resources, understand the scarcity of elements, and promote the value of minerals in our everyday lives.