By Robb M. Stewart

 

Rio Tinto PLC will build a new plant at its Kennecott copper mine near Salt Lake City to recover tellurium, a mineral used in solar panels.

The U.K.- and Australia-listed miner said it is investing $2.9 million to set up the plant, which will recover tellurium as a byproduct of copper smelting, thereby extracting a valuable mineral from waste streams. The plant will have a capacity to produce about 20 metric tons of tellurium a year, it said.

Rio Tinto said it expects to begin production of tellurium in the fourth quarter, creating a new North American supply chain for an essential component of cadmium telluride, a semiconductor used to manufacture thin film photovoltaic solar panels. It also can be used as an additive to steel and copper to make the metals easier to cut and can be added to lead to increase resistance to sulfuric acid, vibration and fatigue.

Kennecott's smelting process also recovers gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium. The company's production from Kennecott was 140,000 tons last year, down 25% from 2019 due to lower grades in part of the operation and changes in mining sequencing.

"The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy," Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director Gaby Poirier said. "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 labour standards with renewable energy."

 

Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 08, 2021 11:17 ET (16:17 GMT)

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