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May 19th 2011

A golden year for electronics

Gold is a wonderfully versatile element, with applications across all areas of science and technology. From dentistry to electronics, gold can be found in just about anything due to its high resistance to several types of corrosion and chemical reactions. It also has great electrical conductivity, making it almost invaluable to many fields of electronics; from domestic to industrial.

But with the rising prices of gold over the last few years, it is becoming an extremely costly resource for electronics manufacturers worldwide. Data compiled by the World Gold Council suggests that 2010 was the highest year on record for gold demand, with 326.8 tonnes ($12.9 billion) of gold changing hands.

For the first quarter of 2011, 79.8 tonnes of gold ($5.1 billion) have been sold/purchased by the electronics industry alone says the W.G.C.

Though the weight of gold traded has only gone up 1% in Quarter 1 2011, the cost has increased 25% because of the increasingly rapid rise in the price of gold. The chip production and wire bonding electrical industries alone are predicted to consume 130 tonnes each over 2011. Though these are two extreme cases (the 2 biggest applications for gold worldwide), the figures for the money and resources being traded are mind blowing.

However, the gold consuming industries won't be worrying about dwindling resources any time soon. The Japan National Institute for Materials Science (N.I.M.S) estimate that across 3 of Japans techonology land fills alone, there are more precious metals than the world will consume in an entire year. A company who specialises in salvaging valuable metals from land fills (Ashai Pretec) managed to save 15 tonnes of gold in 2007.

The N.I.M.S. stated that if the land fills were to be exploited properly, it would push Japan into the the top 5 countries for metal exports!

Either way, only 13% of the world's gold usage (550 tonnes) is recycled annually. Meaning there is still plenty left to be reused and remanufactured.

Dr.Holliday of the W.G.C. has stated that the electronics industry may have to switch from gold to a more available and sustainable material such as copper.

"Some low-end sub-contractors and foundries have been aggressively promoting copper as the main wire bonding packaging solution, as well as advocating alternative non-gold contact finishes," says Dr.Holliday, "this record demand shows that gold remains the metal of choice for manufacturers looking for durability and reliability in component manufacturing."

Until next time, The Newbury Electronics Team

Source: ElectronicsWeekly, David Manners' Semiconductor Blog