Tellurium Tomorrow: Solar Power, Supply, Demand and Waste of a Rare Material
  • Lecture Theatre 006, Babbage Building

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The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences organises a regular series of research seminars throughout the academic year to which everyone is welcome to attend. Speakers - both external and internal to the University - will talk on topics related to all aspects of Earth Sciences.

Today's speaker is Dr Daniel Smith from the University of Leicester and a Distinguished Lecturer of the Mineralogical Society.

Tellurium is one of the least abundant elements in the Earth’s crust, yet society has a burgeoning need for a reliable supply of this semi-metal, particularly as a key ingredient in solar panels. Although established uses in alloys and computer components have declined, rapid growth in solar power has dramatically increased the consumption of tellurium. Tellurium is almost exclusively produced as a by-product of refining other metals (chiefly copper), and at present, industry is poorly positioned to increase supply in line with growing demand. Alternative sources exist however; a number of mineral deposit types are notably enriched in tellurium. Why some deposits are enriched in Te in particular is puzzling; this lecture will unpick some reasons why this rare element becomes enriched in particular environments. 

A continuing challenge for tellurium supply has been in the “how” of recovering it. There are a number of metallurgical problems with the extraction of the element even from enriched ores. This talk will outline some novel solvents being developed at the University of Leicester that have the potential to radically change the way we process ore minerals, and transform the supply of rare metals such as tellurium, all while reducing the economic and environmental impacts of mineral processing. 

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