Element Scarcity – EuChemS Periodic Table

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The European Chemical Society (EuChemS) is releasing an updated version of its iconic Periodic Table, first produced for the International Year of the Periodic Table in 2019.

The main change to the EuChemS Periodic Table is to convert the colour of carbon from the benign green colour to a tricolour of green, red and dark grey.

Green because it is plentifully available in the form of carbon dioxide (too plentiful), carbonate rocks and vegetation.
Red because it will very shortly cause serious problems if we do nothing to restrict its use.
Grey because it can come from conflict resources.

The carbon cycle balances photosynthesis, by which plants grow taking up CO2, with respiration (breathing), by which we and all flora and fauna live and give out CO2. For millennia these two processes, compounded with CO2 absorption and release by the oceans, have been in balance justifying the benign green colour given to carbon in the 2019 Periodic Table.

Burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) pumps so much extra CO2 into the air that photosynthesis and the oceans can’t keep up so CO2 levels rise leading to global warming and climate change that will cause severe disruption to all forms of life in the planet very soon if we do nothing.

Changing the colour of carbon is a clarion call to everyone, especially those responsible for the outcomes of COP26, to do all in their power to reduce their CO2 emissions for the good of the next generations.

But why is it also grey, defined as “From conflict resources”?

Carbon, especially oil, can come from places where wars are fought over the oilfields or where oil revenues are used to fight wars.

As with all other conflict minerals, EuChemS calls on all oil refiners and users to avoid buying from oilfields tainted by conflict.

This updated version of the EuChemS Periodic Table graphically highlights the problems of carbon in our world now. If we behave responsibly by cutting our dependence on fossil fuels and never using it from conflict resources, we can save our beautiful and diverse planet and restore carbon to its rightful green colour.


The Periodic Table is available for free download. Please note that the work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs CC BY-ND.

Support notes, which explain in more details the updates made to the EuChemS Periodic Table (2021), are available for download here.

Support notes for teachers are available for download here.

The smartphone you may be using right now to look at this unique Periodic Table is made up of some 30 elements – over half of which may give cause for concern in the years to come because of increasing scarcity. The issue of element scarcity cannot be stressed enough. With some 10 million smartphones being discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone, we need to carefully look at our tendencies to waste and improperly recycle such items. Unless solutions are provided, we risk seeing many of the natural elements that make up the world around us run out – whether because of limited supplies, their location in conflict areas, or our incapacity to fully recycle them.

Protecting endangered elements needs to be achieved on a number of levels. As individuals, we need to question whether upgrades to our phones and other electronic devices are truly necessary, and we need to make sure that we recycle correctly to avoid old electronics don’t end up in landfill sites or polluting the environment. On a political level, we need to see a greater recognition of the risk element scarcity poses, and moves need to be made to support better recycling practices and an efficient circular economy. Moreover, transparency and ethical issues need to be considered to avoid the abuse of human rights, as well as to allow citizens to make informed choices when purchasing smartphones or other electronics – as many of the elements we require in our electronics are imported from conflict zones.

2019 has been pronounced the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT2019), and EuChemS, the European Chemical Society, hopes that this unique and thought-provoking Periodic Table will lead to reflection and ultimately, action. Over the next year, we will provide featured articles on specific elements, their endangered status, and the consequences this will have on the world around us.

The Periodic Table is available for free download. Please note that the work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs CC BY-ND. It can be downloaded in other languages below. If you are a chemist who wants to use the EuChemS Periodic Table in your native language, and this translation is not available, please visit the page Translations for the Periodic Table and follow the instructions for a submission of a new translation.

Support notes, which explain in more detail how the Periodic Table has been designed are available for download here.

Support notes for teachers are available for download here.

Play the EuChemS video game ‘Elemental Escapades!’ online here!


Spread the word and help protect endangered elements! Share on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and follow the conversation through #elementscarcity & #IYPT2019.