Rio Tinto has begun producing the critical mineral tellurium at its Rio Tinto Kennecott operation outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Under a new agreement with 5N Plus in North America, the latter will refine the produced material in Canada, which will in turn be supplied to First Solar for use to create advanced thin-film photovoltaic solar panels.
5N Plus will also use the tellurium to manufacture ultra-high purity semiconductor materials at its facility in St. George, Utah, to serve the security and medical imaging markets.
About 20 tons of tellurium will be produced annually via a newly built circuit at the RTK refinery, and will be recovered from byproduct streams generated during the copper refining process, which will also reduce waste for treatment and discarding as mine tailings.
Rio Tinto Copper Chief Operating Officer Clayton Walker said: “We are proud to deliver a new domestic supply of tellurium to support the manufacturing of solar panels and other critical equipment here in the United States. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s tellurium resource is contained in copper ore and no other metal has more critical mineral by-products than copper. The Kennecott team is constantly looking for ways to extract new critical minerals to meet emerging demand for the clean energy transition.”
First Solar Chief Manufacturing Operations Officer Mike Koralewski added: “Rio Tinto’s decision to invest in tellurium is a win for responsibly-produced, American solar. We’re thrilled that tellurium from Kennecott will play a role in powering our country’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”
Tellurium is one of 10 metals and products recovered from ore extracted at Kennecott, which produces nearly 15% of U.S. copper with the country’s lowest carbon footprint.
Source: Rio Tinto