Utah Soon to Produce Rare Element Needed for Solar Power

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Utah Soon to Produce Rare Element Needed for Solar Power

Utah Soon to Produce Rare Element Needed for Solar Power

As we noted in a previous post (https://indsupply.com/mining-imw/), the Intermountain West makes significant contributions to the world market of metals and mined industrial materials. Exciting developments from one of Industrial Supply Company’s long-term customers indicate that our region may soon add a rare and critical component of green energy to its list of non-fuel commodities.

In March, Rio Tinto announced it is building a new plant at the Utah Kennecott mine that will recover tellurium as a byproduct of copper smelting. One of the rarest elements on earth, tellurium is an essential component in the production of thin film solar panels, which absorb and convert sunlight to electricity at lower production costs than traditional silicon solar panels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/cadmium-telluride), solar cells that rely on tellurium are now the second most common photovoltaic technology in the global marketplace. As worldwide interest in renewable energy surges, there is no question that demand for the element will only increase.

It is tellurium’s essential function in the manufacturing of thin film solar panels, as well as the fact that so much of the tellurium used in the United States comes from foreign sources, that led the U.S. Office of Interior to include this element on its list of thirty-five minerals (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/05/18/2018-10667/final-list-of-critical-minerals-2018) they believe are critical to our country’s security and economy. With recovery operations at the Kennecott mine expected to begin later this year, Utah will soon become a secure and reliable domestic source for tellurium, thus alleviating some supply chain worries.

Rio Tinto says the plant will have the capacity to produce 20 tons of tellurium per year, which could lead to as much as a 4 percent increase in the tellurium produced worldwide. That’s good news for both efforts to expand renewable energy and for our national security. At Industrial Supply, we look forward to witnessing and supporting Rio Tinto’s important expansion of its Utah portfolio.

August 2021

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