Rio Tinto has set a start date in the fourth quarter of this year for its plant to recover tellurium from its copper refining at the Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.
The miner has earmarked $2.9 million to set up the plant, which will extract from its smelting the critical mineral used in solar panels. It expects the plant will have a 20-tonne-per-year production capacity.
In addition to photovoltaic panels, Rio said the tellurium can be used as an additive to steel and copper to improve machinability, making them easier to cut, and can be added to lead to increase resistance to sulfuric acid, vibration and fatigue.
“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,” said Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director Gaby Poirier.
“Rio Tinto is committed to using innovation to reduce waste in our production process and extract as much value as possible from the material that we mine and process.” The miner said that a total of nine products are currently recovered from the ore extracted at its Kennecott complex. These include gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium. Molybdenum is recovered from its Copperton concentrator.
According to Rio Tinto data, Kennecott produces almost 20% of U.S. copper. In 2020, Kennecott also became the first producer to be awarded the Copper Mark.