- New tellurium production facility with 20 tons annual capacity is coming up in Utah by Rio Tinto
- The $2.9 million facility will recover tellurium from copper refining at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City
- The company considers the project as creating a North American supply chain for this material that’s used extensively in thin film solar panels
Metals mining giant Rio Tinto is building a new tellurium plant in Utah state of the US, expecting to produce close to 20 tons annually. The company believes this plant would create a new North American supply chain for this critical mineral.
Tellurium is used in cadmium telluride semiconductor that’s used to manufacture CdTe thin film solar panels. The planned $2.9 million facility will recover tellurium from copper refining at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City in Utah. Tellurium is a byproduct of copper smelting that if not recovered, can go into waste.
“The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy,” said Rio Tinto’s 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.”
In the US, First Solar, Inc. is the most prominent user of tellurium as it produces its thin film modules using cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology, and is by far the world’s largest manufacturers that has opted for this technology. Another prospective client for Rio Tinto’s products can be Ohio based CdTe thin cell solar panel maker Toledo Solar.
First Solar’s comment on the development was shared by Argus Media as having said, “We welcome the decision to construct the new plant in Utah. This facility creates a new domestic source of a critical mineral that is essential in the fight against climate change. We are in early stage talks with Rio Tinto but cannot release any further details yet.”
First Solar produced 6.1 GW total solar module capacity in 2020, and by 2021-end it aims to increase its fleet-wide nameplate capacity to 8.7 GW comprising 6.1 GW at its international fabs and 2.6 GW in Ohio. By 2022-end, it should scale up to 9.4 GW nameplate capacity to come up as 6.7 GW globally and 2.7 GW in Ohio. The management is evaluating the potential for future capacity expansion as well (see First Solar’s 2020 Net Sales Decline To $2.7 Billion).
Apart from solar PV industry, Rio Tinto said tellurium can also be used as an additive to steel and copper to improve machinability.