British scientists exploring an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean have discovered a treasure trove of rare minerals.
Their investigation of a seamount more than 500km (300 miles) from the Canary Islands has revealed a crust of “astonishingly rich” rock.
Samples brought back to the surface contain the scarce substance tellurium in concentrations 50,000 times higher than in deposits on land.
Tellurium is used in a type of advanced solar panel, so the discovery raises a difficult question about whether the push for renewable energy may encourage mining of the seabed.
Dr Bram Murton, the leader of the expedition, told the BBC that he had been expecting to find abundant minerals on the seamount but not in such concentrations.
“These crusts are astonishingly rich and that’s what makes these rocks so incredibly special and valuable from a resource perspective.”
He says he is not advocating deep-sea mining, which has yet to start anywhere in the world and is likely to be highly controversial because of the damage it could cause to the marine environment.
But Dr Murton does want his team’s discovery, part of a major research project called MarineE-Tech, to trigger a debate about where vital resources should come from.
“If we need green energy supplies, then we need the raw materials to make the devices that produce the energy so, yes, the raw materials have to come from somewhere.
“We either dig them up from the ground and make a very large hole or dig them from the seabed and make a comparatively smaller hole.
“It’s a dilemma for society – nothing we do comes without a cost.”
Hmm, Te crustal concentration is thought to be 0.001 to 0.005 ppm. 50,000 times that is 50 to 250 ppm. Last I looked Te was $13 a lb or so. Could be anywhere now, that was a few years back.
And we tend not to mine stuff which is 250 ppm for something worth $13 a lb. The processing is too expensive.
Which is why we take the copper sludges from the production of anode and cathode sheet and send them off to a plant in the Philippines. Because they’re 0.5% to 2 %, or 5,000 ppm to 20,000 ppm, Te.
And having checked the price again ($11 to $22 a lb over the year) there’s no real evidence of any great shortage from that source. Especially since it’s only one form of solar cells which uses Te…..