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The hidden gold in devices

Though it is used as jewellery or for investment purposes, gold has many technology applications

twitter-logo PB Jayakumar   New Delhi     Last Updated: December 10, 2017  | 13:37 IST
The hidden gold in devices

Gold is primarily used for investment or as jewellery. But, what most people do not know is that many products we use in everyday life from smart phones to cars and drugs contain 'gold' inside.

According to a recent World Gold Council (WGC) technology report, use of gold in industrial applications, especially in electronics, was over 1,000 tonnes globally in the last four years.

But the use of gold in electronics, which peaked at 327 tonnes in 2010, has come down to 256 tonnes in 2016, due to increase in gold prices and substitution with other materials, says the report.
Gold has high electrical conductivity and does not corrode or tarnish, unlike other high conductivity materials like silver or copper. Gold is soft, pliable and can be easily drawn out into narrow wires or plated into thin coatings. Thus it is widely used in electroplated coatings on connectors and conductors and as bonding wires within semiconductor packages. Electronic chips can sometimes have hundreds of wire bond connections, each using a tiny amount of gold.

The new generation of smart phones with features like facial recognition ID, wireless charging and infrared sensors, require very advanced semiconductors. WCG estimates current generation smart phones contain US $1-1.50 of gold per unit. Aeronautics and automotive sector, which use precision technologies, also use gold in key equipment for areas like lighting and braking systems.

Medicine is another area where gold has applications. Currently clinical trials are on to develop a gold based drug, Auranofin, which was earlier indicated to treat rheumatoid arthritis, to treat ovarian cancer and dysentery. Similar drugs are being developed as antibiotics for the rising antimicrobial resistance. Gold is also used in medical devices for detecting diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS.

From 2005-11, the prices of gold quadrupled forcing microchip manufacturers to limit amount of gold used in their devices. Technological advancements like alloys also enabled semiconductor manufacturers to reduce the amount of gold they use, without compromising reliability.

Nevertheless, the growth of sectors like the semiconductor industry, next generation technology products like new smart phones, demand for solar energy or driverless cars etc are going to increase industrial applications of gold, predicts WGC.

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