Where does it come from, where is it going?

Lifecycle analysis is a complex, art.  Figuring out where all the bits of my Samsung Omnia came from, down to the metal ores is a lot of guesswork.  Even figuring out what components are in there is mostly stabbing in the dark.  At least I know there isn’t any staballoy!  (or I sure hope there isn’t)


The chart above tracks the energy and a number of the raw materials, and the top national sources for those materials.  This is not an exhaustive list, and I have no idea where Samsung would be sourcing materials from on the world markets.


This second chart describes the effects of materials extraction and processing.  The pollutants listed on the right are the major issues in the categories of pollution formed as a result of the acquisition and processing.  The resource extraction, gathering, and processing phases are enormously destructive, likely more damaging than disposal—for every kilogram of metal extracted, potentially hundreds of kilos of ore may have to be processed- not exactly the most efficient process.

As a result of all of this, I really hope that the overall impact of the smartphone as convergence device delivers utility in excess of environmental impact. 



Insolation is measured in terms of radiant flux, measured in Watts.  This little gadget stores energy in a set of capacitors, so yes, Dr. Brown, there are flux and capacitors here.  But alas, very little time travel.


For the midterm project for Sustainable Energy, I made a rather crude, yet elegant (in a prototype sort of way) voltmeteter.  With a 12” square high-efficiency photovoltaic panel formerly of Cornell’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle project (material diverted from waste), some 1F ultracapacitors, and an NTE 1508 bar graph driver, it’s not a particularly complex circuit to make.


The NTE 1508 bar graph driver chip is nearly identical to the National Semiconductor LM3914.  The documentation for that chip is much better, so follow the wiring diagram for that chip (PDF).  Instructables’ LM3916 driven VU meter instruction set is also a good resource, the LM3916 being very similar to the LM3914 and LM3915.

The NTE 1508 + LED set draws a surprising amount of power.  The capacitor bank drains pretty fast when the PV is detached.  But it works quite well when in partial or direct sun.

The trim potentiometer on the wiring diagram above is really useful, allowing easy calibration to suit the light.  In the 3914/3915/3916 the voltage divider has fixed resistors, replacing those with a variable resistor is a much better arrangement, given the different use of the chip.

Helpful hints:

  1. the chip is ‘sinking’ power from the LEDs, which have their positive leg on the power rail (+3.3V +/-)
  2. the NTE 1508 works with either +5V or +20V supply voltage.
  3. use the potentiometer to trim the scale for full reading on the bar graph/LED set.  if you like, connect pin 9 (MODE) to pin 3 (V+) for bar mode, leave open for dot mode)

Mobile Phone LCA Midterm Briefing

Product: Smartphone
Samsung Omnia i910/Verizon


Financial Drivers

  • US Market:

Devices are subsidized by the carriers, but the phone is locked to the carrier. The price of the phone, approx $500-600, is reduced to $200 plus a 2-year contract.
This partnership reduces the amount of innovation on both the side of the carrier and the manufacturer: the manufacturers have to cater to the demands of the networks, and service providers often have to pick among mobile devices customized for each network.
  • Most international markets:

Devices are sold at retail and are often able to be used on any carrier. Some jurisdictions prohibit locking the phone to a carrier.

In the smartphone space, software platforms are a third dimension of variability. Apple and RIM design their own hardware and software, Google’s Android platform and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform are to some degree device independent. Innovation comes from the software providers, hardware designs, and to some degree prodding by the service providers for new features to attract customers. Disruptive innovations, such as the introduction of the iPhone and the open source Android platform have provided pressure to innovate on both hardware and software fronts, leading to a more rapid evolution of products.

While the flexibility of the smartphone is much greater than that of a conventional mobile device, there is still financial incentive to have customers replace hardware. Apple’s iPhone has gone through three generations since introduction in 2007, and the general rule of a two-year lifespan for a mobile device has held true with smartphones, mostly due to the social pressure to have the latest and greatest, the designed life of the device, and carrier pricing structure (for example Verizon’s ‘New Every Two’ program).

Regulatory issues

  • Batteries

Lithium chemistry batteries are used universally for the high energy density and relatively low cost due to the high volume produced.
Recycling schemes exist for lithium batteries, and they are banned from municipal trash streams in most legal jurisdictions. Of course this does not preclude many batteries from ending up in the municipal waste stream where they are landfilled or incinerated.
Batteries are regulated under RoHS and the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer chemistries do not include any banned materials. As they do present a fire hazard and lithium is a reactive metal, there are restrictions on shipping batteries and they are not legally permitted to be disposed of in landfills.
  • Sales in the US vs. overseas rules

As handsets are often sold in multiple legal jurisdictions, such as the US and EU, most manufactures follow the RoHS and WEEE EU directives for most of all of their products. The more stringent regulations in the EU generally translate to more stringent criteria for design teams, generalizing the RoHS and WEEE regulations to all versions of the product, if it is cost effective to do so. Products intended for a single market may not be compliant with international standards.
The Omnia i910 is RoHS compliant, as are its battery and accessories.
  • EPA

The EPA Energy Star criteria attempts to reduce the energy consumption of products during their use phase. For a mobile phone, this accounts for approximately half of the total environmental impact.
For mobile phones, the AC power supplies can be Energy Star certified. The criteria for certification are a no-load draw ≤ 0.3W, and a loaded efficiency specified based on the rated output of the unit. The minimum efficiencies required are relatively low: for a 1w power supply, the efficiency must be greater than 56.4% to qualify for Energy Star certification. Most manufacturers units claim to exceed this efficiency level.
Many of the power supplies manufactured by Samsung are Energy Star certified, but the i900/i910 power supply is not listed.
  • European Union

Products intended for sale in European Union countries are required to bear the CE logo and conform to the EU directives. This mark is applied by the manufacturer who must claim compliance with the appropriate directives—there is no third party or governmental testing required, but companies are responsible for the truthfulness of their claims of compliance. The charger for the i910 bears the CE mark, as does the battery.
  • State regulations

New York, Maine, and California require mobile phone sales outlets to take back phones, and Illinois requires manufacturers to recycle electronics.
As of 2008, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, and Kentucky have passed legislation undertaking study of e-waste recycling programs or started programs.
Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have proposed legislation regarding e-waste recycling.

Nongovernmental organizations

  • Underwriters Laboratories

UL certifies power supplies and cords for fire resistance and electrical containment. Often this requires the addition of fire retardant materials to the plastics used in casings, circuit boards and wire coverings. Historically these have been bromine compounds such as PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and similar compounds. Most manufacturers, under pressure from consumers and nongovernmental organizations, have begun to phase out brominated flame retardants, replacing them with other compounds which may pose health hazards of their own.
  • Greenpeace

Greenpeace has campaigned for the restriction of use of hazardous substances, and the restriction of their transport. Greenpeace activists were instrumental in promoting the Basel Ban, and prompted Samsung to become a leader in reducing the environmental impact of their products. Samsung, receiving a poor score on Greenpeace’s listing of manufacturers committed in 2004 to reduce the use of hazardous substances, and they have lived up to that promise in the years since.
  • Basel Action Network

The Basel Action Network has pressed for the adoption of the Basel Convention ban on the transport of hazardous wastes; signed and ratified by all industrialized nations except for the US (which signed but did not ratify). The Basel Ban prohibits the transfer of hazardous wastes between nations which are parties to the ban, and from non-party nations to party nations. The US, as a nation not bound by the treaty, has negotiated a number of treaties outside the Basel Ban to allow for shipment of hazardous materials to less developed nations. A large amount of electronics waste is shipped to China, India, and African nations, where it is often disposed of improperly.

Consumer Drivers

Initially, smartphones were not on as short a lifecycle as standard mobile phones due to the business nature of designs. Windows Mobile, Palm, and the early BlackBerry devices were geared towards a business audience, limiting their reach into the general mobile market. The later BlackBerry models and the debut of the iPhone greatly increased demand for smartphones (Nokia’s products only having a small penetration in the US market), and greatly increased pressure on device manufacturers and service providers to deliver new models at a rapid pace.

As the standard US mobile contract is two years, consumers replace their handsets for the most part on this schedule. This contributes to the large number of handsets which become ‘waste’ annually, and which are often not recycled or reused—most often the end up in closets and drawers.

Push from consumers for takeback programs has resulted in service providers offering takeback programs at their retail outlets, and at partner stores, such as Radio Shack and Best Buy. Verizon, which sells the Omnia, has its own recycling program, HopeLine. HopeLine has collected over 1.6 million phones, and donated 23,000 units to individuals threatened with domestic violence.

Smartphones are less easily reused for these types of programs, and therefore most likely become waste. As Verizon uses CDMA2000 as opposed to GSM, there are limited secondary markets for handsets. Other providers’ devices can be used overseas—Nokia handsets often are ‘downcycled’ from first world to third world countries before becoming electronic waste.

Mobile Device Recyclers

  • ECO

ECO Take Back handles e-waste recycling for Samsung. Mobile phones are sorted and those with reuse value are separated. Phones to be reused have their memory wiped and then are sent off to be resold as warranty replacement phones, or sold to lower-tier uses such as overseas markets.
Phones without resale value are shredded and the materials processed for recoverable metals and recyclable plastics. The company would not divulge what methods they use, but it is likely that chemical separation is used to recover metals.
  • ReCellular

ReCellular resells usable mobile devices, and recycles those without resale value or which are unusable. ReCellular collected 5.5 million units in 2008, reconditioning half for resale, and recycling 1.2 million lbs of materials including 10t of precious metals.
ReCellular’s policy is that none of the phones they process will be landfilled or incinerated, and they claim to audit all partners to ensure proper handling of materials. ReCellular exclusively uses Sims Recycling in West Chicago, and does not ship materials overseas.
ReCellular is ISO 14001:2004 compliant, and partnered with the EPA on developing the R2 recycler standards for electronic waste.
  • Call2Recycle

Call2Recycle recycles mobile phones and rechargeable batteries of all chemistries from consumer sources. Funded by electronics companies and producers of rechargeable batteries, the service is free to consumers. Call2Recycle does not recycle primary (non-rechargeable) batteries. Batteries can be mailed in using prepaid mailing envelopes, or dropped in boxes in stores and post offices.
Call2Recycle uses Inmetco in Ellwood City, PA to process batteries for recoverable metals by thermal processing.
Mobile devices are resold through Market Velocity, a firm which resells and recycles all types of e-waste through partner organizations. Market Velocity claims to follow EPA guidelines for e-waste recycling, but do not specify who they send products to for processing.

The Conet Project

The Historical Radio has recieved good press, and now for something related: numbers stations.  The Historical radio is fun to play with, educational, and fun to listen to.  this stuff is positively creepy.  You weren’t supposed to hear this stuff: http://www.archive.org/details/ird059
check out The Conet Project for details.
I really can’t wait for L O S T to reveal what The Numbers mean…


What do you want for breakfast?  How about a nice bowl of Crummy Crunchies?

DSC_0079 DSC_0080 DSC_0085DSC_0083

… as in the infamous fake cereal from Haredevil Hare (the Definitive Bugs Bunny cartoon)

(see 5:20)

The CrunchBox is a talking cereal box.  It’s self powered, with three shake flashlight generators embedded in a foam block charging a 3.6v Ni-MH battery.  A bridge rectifier converts the alternating current induced by passing the magnet through the coil (left side of the diagram below), to direct current to charge the battery.


This powers the Radioshack voice recorder/player (catalog number 276-1323)  which is rated 50mA @ 9V, but runs nicely on 2.2V, although the pitch rises as the voltage drops.  Below 2V, the player doesn’t function at all.  Note: you have to carefully solder to the switch on the circuit board: the play button is integrated on the board.  Make sure not to bridge the terminals!  I covered the wires with some hot glue to make sure the leads didn’t break off.

A microswitch glued to the box side closes when the top is opened, triggering playback.




To add the coup de grace, some real cereal is in a shortened bag in the top, covering up the electronics, and a witty graphics package covers the (by comparison) pedestrian Weetabix box.

NB: don’t take this on the subway or ship it, as it does look rather suspicious. (see above)

The Cell Phone Replacement Cycle and the Windows phone 7 series

I went to the Engadget live show yesterday and saw the Windows phone 7 series.  And it is a big a leap from the iPhone as the iPhone was from windows mobile 5-6-6.1.


So, um, what to do with my windows mobile 6.5 powered phone is going to be two years old when WP7S hits the stores?  Even if it were perfectly recycled, there’s still significant embodied energy in it.  While I haven’t been able to fully quantify the energy and materials here, rest assured it’s not trivial, when magnified by millions of units being replaced every two years.

There is necessarily a progression towards better and better hardware as time passes: multitouch displays, faster processors, and learnings in usability design (although by now smart people should know not to use proprietary connectors and to put buttons in odd places).

Software upgradability could go a long way in addressing this.  I upgraded my phone from WM 6.1 to WM 6.5, which isn’t much of a major software change, necessitating new hardware.  WP7S is a major platform change, and it’s unlikely to be able to be run on my Omnia i910.

It would be nice if device manufacturers and software providers considered upgrade paths in their design work.  Apple’s vertically integrated hardware and software platform naturally leads itself to this kind of thinking – changes in the device software can be considered with respect to the now three generations of hardware.  While I’m not up on the latest iPhone knowledge, there doesn’t seem to have been much change in the OS as far as UI goes-the big changes have been in hardware functionality (GPS, compass, etc.).  The Windows Mobile platform has been for the most part device independent, and google’s Android has adopted a similar device independent of OS model.  Hardware requirements for generations of OS’s obviously influence hardware upgrades, but there is the possibility of soft upgrades in smartphones where traditional phones have no upgrade flexibility.

The physical life of mobile phones is also quite limited.  They are simply not designed to survive much abuse, so they last about 2 years before something cracks: a hinge, the screen cover, etc.  The manufacturers make money and the networks get to lock you into another contract – not exactly the best plan for the planet, but it matches well with their capitalist MO.