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Inside Scoop: How rocks power your iPhone
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Inside Scoop: How rocks power your iPhone

2:16 /

CNET's Jen Haley talks to senior writer Jay Greene at the site of a rare-earth elements mine about how minerals become essential components in iPhones.

-I'm Jen Haley here with Jay Greene. He's a senior writer here at CNET and that we're selling outside a rare earth mineral mine here in Mountain Pass, California. It's about an hour southwest of Las Vegas and this is the first report in a series that Jay is doing in the life cycle of iPhones. So Jay thanks for joining us. -Great to be here. -And tell us what a big hit in the middle of the desert has a deal with this phone? -Well, you know, the thing that makes iPhones come to life are the fast version of the screen or the magnets that help power the-- the speakers and those start their life from here. These rocks that pull from the earth are processed and turned into powders, which eventually make their way up to the foodchain as it were into the magnets and the phosphorus, but then get processed and turned into your iPhone. -So most of the rare-earth mining has done on China, but what so unique about the mining done here? -So this mine is interesting. It is-- It's actually relatively environmentally friendly if you can say something like that about our mine. But many rare-earth mines create radioactive waste that collected in a pool of liquid and that then leeches into the ground and so if you go to Baotou in China there's a lot of toxic waste there, there's a lot of cancer in that village in that area. Here, they don't use the-- they don't create electronic radioactive pools of waste that actually fit out of process. MolyCorp, the company that runs this mine, they figured out a process how to extract the rare-earth minerals they need, but do so in a way that doesn't pollute the land. -So, how will this type of technique change the way that iPhones are produced? -Yeah, so this mine is coming on-- coming to life right now. It should be fully operational by next year in 2013 and pretty soon the folks of MolyCorp think that it could account for as much as third of the world's rare-earth mineral mining and that's a big number given that right now and China controls more than 90% of it. And that could change the environmental phase of rare-earth mining. It could change the pricing of how much folks are paying for these rare-earth minerals. It really could change the complexion of rare-earth mining and really what goes into that iPhone. -Excellent. So Jay what's next in your series? -Well, I go to China and there I actually visit some of the manufacturing facilities where iPhones are made. -Fantastic. We will look forward to it. Thanks for joining me. For insight scope, I'm Jen Haley, thanks for watching.

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