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IYPT Elements

IYPT 2019 Elements 048: Cadmium: Batteries and van Gogh

Element 48 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is cadmium. Cadmium’s main use is in batteries, and it has previously seen use in paints – however, its toxicity means that many countries are looking to remove it from consumer products.

In 2009, over 80% of the world’s cadmium output was used in batteries. Rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries were once widely used in power tools, cameras, and other portable electronic devices. However, with advances in battery technology seeing lithium-ion batteries becoming more popular, and regulations against the sale of nickel-cadmium batteries in new products, they are now largely being phased out.

Coloured cadmium pigments have found use in paints, giving vivid yellow, orange and red hues, and were used by artists including van Gogh. Though there are now azo-dye-based alternatives, these can fade more in sunlight relative to the cadmium pigments. However, the alternatives do have the advantage of being less expensive and less toxic.

A Europe-wide ban on cadmium pigments in artist paints was proposed in 2014, but rejected in 2015, as it is not considered that cadmium pigments pose an unacceptable risk to human health.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.