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Rare mineral mined at Kennecott facility in Magna

Posted at 11:30 AM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 14:22:06-04

MAGNA, Utah — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox was on hand for the symbolic start of a brand new production facility at the Kennecott mine in Magna on Wednesday.

Rio Tinto is now producing a rare and critical mineral that could play a big role in securing a green and sustainable energy future.

Tellurium is eight times more rare than gold, yet it was something that was essentially thrown out in mine tailings for decades after ore mined from the mountains was turned into copper.

Cox hitting the ceremonial "on" button on a new batch of Tellurium, which is now listed as a critical mineral by the U.S. government. It’s a key component in the manufacturing of solar panels, which many experts say will be key to a green, energy future.

The concern now is that much of the world's supply of tellurium either comes from China or other countries under its influence.

Officials said opening the Magna production facility is a huge step towards securing the country's own energy future.

“If we can produce it here, we are all going to be better off," said Cox. "This is going to bless the lives of Utahns, whether they know it or not, and Americans for generations to come.

"Is it too little too late? No, it’s not too little too late, it’s too little right on time. We desperately need more of it.”

Approximately 20 tons of tellurium will be produced annually through the new $3 million circuit at the Kennecott refinery. And since it is recovered from by-product streams generated during copper refining, it will reduce the amount of waste that needs to be treated.

Rio Tinto is also partnering with the US Department of Energy to try and find more ways to economically recover other critical minerals like tellurium and lithium.