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12.16: Materials Humans Use

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What resources are in those electronics?

Everyone may realize that we use resources like trees, copper, water, and gemstones, but how many of us realize the tremendous variety of elements we need to make a single electronic device? A tablet computer with a touch screen contains many common chemical elements and a variety of rare earth elements.

Common Materials We Use from the Earth

People depend on natural resources for just about everything that keeps us fed and sheltered, as well as for the things that keep us entertained. Every person in the United States uses about 20,000 kilograms (40,000 pounds) of minerals every year for a wide range of products, such as cell phones, TVs, jewelry, and cars. Table below shows some common objects, the materials they are made from, and whether they are renewable or nonrenewable.

Common Objects We Use From the Earth
Common Object Natural Resources Used Are These Resources Renewable or Nonrenewable?
Cars 15 different metals, such as iron, lead, and chromium to make the body. Nonrenewable

Precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum.

Gems like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, turquoise.

Electronic Appliances (TV’s, computers, DVD players, cell phones, etc.) Many different metals, like copper, mercury, gold. Nonrenewable

Soil to grow fibers such as cotton.

Sunlight for the plants to grow.

Animals for fur and leather.


Soil to grow plants.

Wildlife and agricultural animals.

Bottled Water

Water from streams or springs.

Petroleum products to make plastic bottles.

Nonrenewable and Renewable
Gasoline Petroleum drilled from wells. Nonrenewable
Household Electricity Coal, natural gas, solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power. Nonrenewable and Renewable
Paper Trees; Sunlight Soil. Renewable

Trees for timber.

Rocks and minerals for construction materials, for example, granite, gravel, sand.

Nonrenewable and Renewable


  • Many objects, such as a car, contain many types of resources.
  • Resources may be renewable or nonrenewable, and an object may contain some of each.
  • Rare earth elements and other unusual materials are used in some electronic devices.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.


1. What products require rare earth elements?

2. What is neodymium used for?

3. What is lanthanum used for?

4. What is praseodymium used for?

5, What is cerium used to produce?

6. What is gadolinium used in?

7. What country controls 97% of the rare earth elements?

8. What is the largest rare earth mine in the world?

9. Why are rare earth elements difficult to extract?

10. What type of mines are used to extract rare earth elements?

11. How many tons of rare earth elements did China export in 2010?

12. Why is China now limiting their exports?


1. What resources are important to you that are renewable? Nonrenewable?

2. What resources do you use that you could use less or not use at all?

3. How might one of these resources go from being renewable to nonrenewable?

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 21, 2016
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