Petroleum in Real Life: Smartphones

Mobile devices have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives: where would they be without oil and gas?

If there’s one thing that’s become a virtually ubiquitous part of people’s lives, it’s the smartphone. We carry them everywhere—they rarely leave our sides, even when we’re sleeping. And it’s a global phenomenon. More than 3.5 billion of the world’s 7.7 billion citizens—or 45 per cent—own smartphones. In a recent study done by Pew Research Centre, while ownership in developed vs. emerging economies differs—76 per cent vs. 45 per cent (median) respectively—smartphone ownership globally continues to rise, as users replace aging mobile technology with smart devices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only further entrenched the smartphone’s ascendance. With limits on face-to-face interactions, they’ve become a lifeline for communication, news and entertainment.

A range of materials in varying quantities go into the making of a smartphone—including glass and metal for the exterior, lithium for the battery and silicon for the chips. One constant is the importance of oil and natural gas. Plastic and/or fibreglass is needed for circuit boards, and wiring. Plastic is often used in the body construction. According to the website Statista, it’s the second most used material in smartphones after silicon. And of course natural gas and oil power industrial processes needed to generate other materials, like aluminum, iron and rare-earth metals that go into the making of a smartphone.

The case for plastic 

As a build material, plastic’s rugged nature is highly appealing to those who don’t want to coddle their phone for fear of breaking it with any given fall or stumble. Plastic’s football-helmet-like resilience is great for those of us who are more casual with our phones; nor does its ruggedness prevent great transmission—plastic allows for easy passage of radio waves. Plastic is also highly versatile and can be styled into various shapes, sizes and colours. It’s also lightweight, making it easy to store or carry. Moreover, it is inexpensive versus its counterparts. Finally, plastic remains the most popular material for colourful, versatile and protective casings.

Brand Popularity and Composition   

Perhaps surprisingly to some, Samsung, with their well-received Galaxy series, is the leader in global Smartphone sales. Industry statistics show Samsung shipping nearly 78.2 million Smartphones in 2019.

In total, the top five Smartphone vendors comprise approximately 70 per cent of the entire industry. Currently, Xiaomi is the global leader for the production of plastic Smartphone products. Samsung’s phones are chiefly aluminum/glass, while Apples Iphones have aluminum and iron (38.5%) as their chief components.