It’s rarer than gold and critical for green energy — and it’s about to be mined in Utah

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Haul trucks drive through Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine on Friday, April 26, 2019.

Haul trucks drive through Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine on April 26, 2019. The element tellurium, which is in high demand for its use in photovoltaic solar cells, will soon be recovered at the mine as a byproduct of copper smelting. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Tellurium mining brings a new North American supply chain for the critical mineral

It is eight times rarer than gold, in high demand for its use in photovoltaic solar cells and will soon be recovered in Utah at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott mine as a byproduct of copper smelting.

Tellurium is one of the least common elements on Earth, but the company later this year plans to begin recovery operations, with the capacity to produce 20 tons per year.

The recent announcement by Rio Tinto means there will be a new North American supply chain for the critical mineral, which after it is alloyed with other elements such as cadmium, forms a compound with enhanced electrical conductivity.

The thin films from the compound efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Tellurium also can be added to steel and copper, making them easier to cut, and is used in the manufacturing of night vision goggles for the military.

“The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy,” said Rio Tinto Kennecott managing director Gaby Poirier. “Adding tellurium to our product portfolio provides customers in North America with a secure and reliable source of tellurium produced at the highest environmental and labor standards with renewable energy.”

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Greg Libecci, energy and resource manager for the Salt Lake City School District, stands with solar panels on the roof of Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City on June 3, 2020. The element tellurium, which is in high demand for its use in photovoltaic solar cells, will soon be recovered at Rio Tinto Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine as a byproduct of copper smelting.

Recovery of tellurium will require a $2.9 million investment by the company with the construction of a new plant that is expected to start production late this year.

That new supply chain for tellurium will add to domestic production, which is chiefly carried out at a mining operation in Amarillo, Texas.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said this addition to Rio Tinto’s Utah portfolio is welcome news.

“With abundant natural resources, Utah is ideally positioned to help supply the critical minerals essential to maintain American manufacturing competitiveness. Rio Tinto’s smelter at Kennecott is one of only two that is capable of producing copper and other critical minerals,” he said. “The new tellurium plant is another valuable contribution to critical mineral independence and energy security in the United States.”

Michael Moats, professor of metallurgical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, said boosting the domestic supply of tellurium is critical for the United States in the arena of renewable energy and national defense.

Moats heads up the university’s O’Keefe Institute, which does research dedicated to promoting a sustainable supply of critical …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News

      

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