Rio Tinto starts production of critical mineral tellurium at Kennecott

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Rio Tinto has started producing tellurium at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah, becoming one of only two U.S. producers of the critical mineral used in advanced thin film photovoltaic solar panels.

The company added that tellurium will be refined in North America by 5N Plus, a leading global producer of specialty semiconductors and performance materials, under a commercial agreement between 5N Plus and Rio Tinto.

The refined tellurium will primarily be supplied to First Solar, the only American company among the world's ten largest solar manufacturers, under an existing supply contract between 5N Plus and First Solar.

According to the company's statement, approximately 20 tons of tellurium will be produced per year through a new $2.9 million circuit built at the Kennecott refinery.

"This valuable material is recovered from by-product streams generated during the copper refining process, reducing the amount of waste that needs to be treated and discarded as mine tailings," the company said in a statement.

Tellurium is listed as a critical mineral by the U.S. Government due to its importance to the economy and energy security.

Rio Tinto is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute to discover further ways to economically recover critical minerals such as tellurium and lithium.

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