Geologists in the United States claim that current mines contain a significant quantity of rare and valuable minerals that are not being extracted. According to their estimation, a quarter of the tellurium necessary for producing solar panels is being wasted.
Tellurium is not extracted in its own right as a mineral; instead, it is obtained predominantly as a waste product during the extraction of copper. Because of its application in photovoltaic panels, there is a swift rise in the demand for tellurium worldwide.
We have a limited understanding of the size of the tellurium deposits because mines very seldom publish the amount of tellurium contained inside them. This was the first time it had been estimated, and it was done so by two geologists from the University of Nevada named Simon Jowitt and Brian McNulty. At the annual conference of the Geological Society of America (GSA), which took place on Wednesday, they presented their study.
The investigators looked at information from 518 mineral occurrences found in operational mines across the United States and Canada, which were known to contain tellurium. They used estimating models to determine that the 18 gold mines located in both nations had the potential to produce approximately 90 tons of tellurium annually. There is potential for an additional 170 tons per year to be brought to the surface from six mines in Canada that contain copper, zinc, and nickel. This is the lowest possible estimate that can be derived from the currently available information, according to Jowitt.
According to Jowitt, who worked on the project, “if the 260 tons of tellurium are successfully brought to the surface, it boosts world production of the material by a quarter.” That amounts to a loss of $17.5 million at this point.
Jowitt points out that the tellurium investigation is but one illustration of the possibility of obtaining valuable components from operational mines. “We need to get the most out of the ore reserves that are already there so that mining can become more environmentally friendly. This is beneficial not just for the wellbeing of the natural world but also for the public perception of the mining business and the bottom line.”
Even though the research only looked at operating mines, recovering minerals and metals from waste heaps in abandoned mines can be financially and environmentally lucrative. The research only looked at active mines. According to Jowitt, businesses had to think about mining various components simultaneously in light of the growing demand for carbon-neutral solutions. If this is not accomplished, he warns that we would “find ourselves in a situation where metal prices spike and climate change mitigation begins to decelerate.”