Monday, May 21, 2007

An Arizona tellurium rush?

As recently as 2000, the price of the element tellurium averaged $3.82 pound, according to the USGS ( Last year it went to $96 and this year it hit $100. So, what’s up?

An investment report released last month by Jack Lifton at says that this fall, Intel and Samsung "will introduce flash memory replacements…that can be used, erased, and used again indefinitely, but, rather than being crystalline silicon technology based, are made from tellurium based glasses composed of germanium, antimony, and tellurium.” They offer the promise of low-cost reliable electronics including smart cell phones, according to Lifton.

Lifton also briefly mentioned the military’s use of tellurium and selenium in solar energy conversion. Coincidentally, Phoenix-based First Solar Inc. which went public last fall, produces photovoltaic solar panels (ie, electricity producing panels) using cadmium tellurium as the absorption layer. First Solar says in their annual report that, “Cadmium tellurium…has the potential to deliver competitive conversion efficiencies with approximately 1% of the semiconductor material used by traditional crystalline silicon solar modules.” This reduces the cost of solar panels, making them more competitive. [Note – in the interest of disclosure - I own stock in First Solar].

Why does all this matter? Well, it turns out there are no primary tellurium mines in the US and perhaps the world. Tellurium is produced mostly as a by-product of copper refining. Los Alamos National Lab says that tellurium "is recovered commercially from anode muds produced during the electrolytic refining of blister copper. The U.S., Canada, Peru, and Japan are the largest Free World producers of the element." A brief survey of my contacts in the copper mining business turned up no one planning on going after tellurium as a product (or at least no one willing to admit it). World production is only about 215 tons.

However, at $100 per pound and the potential for major new demands on the mineral, it seems possible that tellurium could follow in the footsteps of molybdenum, another ‘worthless’ mineral that now is a major contributor to mining company bottom lines and the state's economy.


  1. Anonymous3:51 PM

    Will FSLR be competitive at $100 per pound for Te? Can they continue to grow with limited supply and/or prohibitive supplies? Just curious as I wanted some solar exposure in the portfolio.

  2. According to this USGS document, annual global tellurium production is even lower than 215 tons.

    FSLR will need to consume about 135 tons of tellurium to produce each 1 GW of solar panel. Their own demand, alone with demands from other applications, will continue to drive tellurium price up. I do not think they can survive a tellurium rush.

    Read more on my blog. I think I plan to hoard some physical tellurium.

  3. The number of solar panels needed depends on your intentions. Your power bill will provide important information for your calculations.

    Solar Hot Water

  4. Solar panels are great and are big help for people to conserve energy. Many of these and all you need to know about it is available online.