To overcome the imminent power crises, we need to better utilize the natural resources available. A chemist, Sarah Hayes, from the University of Alaska states that scientists around the world need to take a much closer look at the technology Metal known as tellurium.
This particular Tech Metal occurs naturally with the deposits of copper, silver and gold. Tellurium is used for making the most cost efficient solar panels as well as in a number of electronics. It plays an integral role of converting sunlight into usable energy. However, tellurium is quite rare, only 3 parts per billion. Given such low supply, in order to meet the ever increasing global energy needs, Hayes estimates production will need to be increased by 40 to 100 times.
At the moment, the studies being conducted at the University of Alaska are focusing on how additional tellurium can be recovered from the copper, silver, and gold mining process. This technology metal investment occurs with all these metals, but only about 2% is recovered from copper mining and none from either silver or gold mining.
When Mining Companies excavate in search of ores such as copper, they mine other metals and minerals that occur naturally with copper as well. Nowadays, explosives are used for blasting ores out of the ground; the rubble is then grinded up to separate the desired metal from the rest of the minerals. Hayes study is focused on separating and extracting tellurium at this stage.
If you are wondering about the tellurium that Mining Companies Fail to extract, they end up as waste byproducts which are disposed off. What these mining companies fail to realize is how toxic tellurium can be; far more toxic than selenium and arsenic, and our understanding of how this tech metal behaves when exposed to the elements is highly limited as well. The study hence, also involves how this tech metal affects the environment once it is exposed to it.
Up until quite recently, there wasn’t any pressure to extract more tellurium. But ever since China announced that they will stop exporting tech metals and intends to use them to create their own products; it has caused panic amongst countries that heavily relied on them, like the United States. This resulted in the Department Of Energy trying to access the tech metals that were crucial to technological development and what they discovered was that tellurium is considered to be critical because of its use in electronics and more importantly, solar panels.
Tellurium occurs naturally in Alaska and after what this discovery, it may be true for other mines around the region as well. There are other elements as well that can be used to create solar panels like silicone. But elements like silicone cost more, which may make this alternate means of energy more difficult to afford for the consumers.