School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

Tellurium (Te) and Selenium (Se) (TeaSe)

A shift from fossil fuels to low-CO2 technologies will lead to greater consumption of certain essential raw materials. Tellurium (Te) and selenium (Se) are 'E-tech' elements essential in photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. They are rare and mined only in small quantities; their location within the Earth is poorly known; recovering them is technically and economically challenging; and their recovery and recycling has significant environmental impacts. Yet demand is expected to surge and PV film production will consume most Se mined and outstrip Te supply by 2020. Presently, these elements are available only as by-products of Cu and Ni refining and their recovery from these ores is decreasing, leading to a supply risk that could hamper the roll-out of PV.

Meeting future demand requires new approaches, including a change from by-production to targeted processing of Se and Te-rich ores. Our research aims to tackle the security of supply by understanding the processes that govern how and where these elements are concentrated in the Earth's crust; and by enabling their recovery with minimal environmental and economic cost. This will involve >20 industrial partners from explorers, producers, processors, end-users and academia, contributing over £0.5M. Focussed objectives across 6 environments will target key knowledge gaps.

The magmatic environment

Develop methods for accurately measuring Se and Te in minerals and rocks - they typically occur in very low concentrations and research is hampered by the lack of reliable data. Experimentally determine how Te and Se distribute between sulfide liquids and magmas - needed to predict where they occur - and ground-truth these data using well-understood magmatic systems. Assess the recognised, but poorly understood, role of "alkaline" magmas in hydrothermal Te mineralisation. 

The hydrothermal environment

Measure preferences of Te and Se for different minerals to predict mineral hosts and design ore process strategies. Model water-rock reaction in "alkaline" magma-related hydrothermal systems to test whether the known association is controlled by water chemistry.The critical zone environment: Determine the chemical forms and distributions of Te and Se in the weathering environment to understand solubility, mobility and bioavailability. This in turn controls the geochemical halo for exploration and provides a natural analogue for microbiological extraction.

The sedimentary environment

Identify the geological and microbiological controls on the occurrence, mobility and concentration of Se and Te in coal - a possible major repository of Se. Identify the geological and microbiological mechanisms of Se and Te concentration in oxidised and reduced sediments - and evaluate these mechanisms as potential industrial separation processes.

Microbiological processing

Identify efficient Se- and Te-precipitating micro-organisms and optimise conditions for recovery from solution. Assess the potential to bio-recover Se and Te from ores and leachates and design a bioreactor.

Ionic liquid processing

Assess the ability of ionic solvents to dissolve Se and Te ore minerals as a recovery method. Optimise ionic liquid processing and give a pilot-plant demonstration.

This is the first holistic study of the Te and Se cycle through the Earth's crust, integrated with groundbreaking oreprocessing research. Our results will be used by industry to: efficiently explore for new Te and Se deposits; adapt processing techniques to recover Te and Se from existing deposits; use new low-energy, low-environmental impact recovery technologies. Our results will be used by national agencies to improve estimates of future Te and Se supplies to end-users, who will benefit from increased confidence in security of supply, and to international government for planning future energy strategies. The public will benefit through unhindered development of sustainable environmental technologies to support a low-CO2 society.

Contacts

Project Principal Investigator

  • Dr Dan Smith, University of Leicester (djs40@le.ac.uk, 0116 252 5355)

Industrial Partner Co-ordinator

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Publications

2018

  • Missen, Mills, Welch, Spratt, Rumsey, Birch and Brugger, 2018, The crystal structure of cesbronite, Cu3TeO4(OH)4: a novel sheet tellurate topology: Acta Crystallographica Section B, v. 74, p. 24-31, doi: 10.1107/S205252061701647X
  • Wang, He, Luo, Zhang, Zhang, Pan and Gadd, 2018, Multiple-pathway remediation of mercury contamination by a versatile selenite-reducing bacterium: Science of The Total Environment, v. 615, p. 615-623, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.09.336
  • Wang, Zhang, Qian, Liang, Pan and Gadd, 2018, Interactions between biogenic selenium nanoparticles and goethite colloids and consequence for remediation of elemental mercury contaminated groundwater: Science of The Total Environment, v. 613, p. 672-678, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.09.113

2017

  • Abbott, Al-Bassam, Goddard, Harris, Jenkin, Nisbet and Wieland, 2017, Dissolution of pyrite and other Fe-S-As minerals using deep eutectic solvents: Green Chemistry, v. 19, p. 2225-2233, doi: 10.1039/c7gc00334j
  • Abbott, Bevan, Baeuerle, Harris and Jenkin, 2017, Paint casting: A facile method of studying mineral electrochemistry: Electrochemistry Communications, v. 76, p. 20-23, doi: 10.1016/j.elecom.2017.01.002
  • Keith, Smith, Jenkin, Holwell and Dye, 2017, A review of Te and Se systematics in hydrothermal pyrite from precious metal deposits: insights into ore-forming processes: Ore Geology Reviews
  • Bullock, Parnell, Perez and Feldmann, 2017, Tellurium Enrichment in Jurassic Coal, Brora, Scotland: Minerals, v. 7, doi: 10.3390/min7120231
  • Bullock and Parnell, 2017, Selenium and molybdenum enrichment in uranium roll-front deposits of Wyoming and Colorado, USA: Journal of Geochemical Exploration, v. 180, p. 101-112, doi: 10.1016/j.gexplo.2017.06.013
  • Bullock, Parnell, Perez, Feldmann and Armstrong, 2017, Selenium and Other Trace Element Mobility in Waste Products and Weathered Sediments at Parys Mountain Copper Mine, Anglesey, UK: Minerals, v. 7, doi: 10.3390/min7110229
  • Forster, Bindi, Stanley and Grundmann, 2017, Hansblockite, (Cu,Hg)(Bi,Pb)Se-2, the monoclinic polymorph of grundmannite: a new mineral from the Se mineralization at El Dragon (Bolivia): Mineralogical Magazine, v. 81, p. 629-640, doi: 10.1180/minmag.2016.080.115
  • Gadd, 2017, Fungi, Rocks, and Minerals: Elements, v. 13, p. 171-176, doi: 10.2113/gselements.13.3.171
  • Gadd, 2017, New horizons in geomycology: Environmental Microbiology Reports, v. 9, p. 4-7, doi: 10.1111/1758-2229.12480
  • Graham, Holwell, McDonald, Jenkin, Hill, Boyce, Smith and Sangster, 2017, Magmatic Cu-Ni-PGE-Au sulfide mineralisation in alkaline igneous systems: An example from the Sron Garbh intrusion, Tyndrum, Scotland: Ore Geology Reviews, v. 80, p. 961-984, doi: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2016.08.031
  • Jenner, 2017, Cumulate causes for the low contents of sulfide-loving elements in the continental crust: Nature Geoscience, v. 10, p. 524-+, doi: 10.1038/ngeo2965
  • Liang and Gadd, 2017, Metal and metalloid biorecovery using fungi: Microbial Biotechnology, v. 10, p. 1199-1205, doi: 10.1111/1751-7915.12767
  • McDonald, Hughes, Butler, Harris and Muir, 2017, Homogenisation of sulphide inclusions within diamonds: A new approach to diamond inclusion geochemistry: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 216, p. 335-357, doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2017.04.039
  • Wang, Zhang, Pan, Lee, Al-Misned, Mortuza and Gadd, 2017, Aerobic and anaerobic biosynthesis of nano-selenium for remediation of mercury contaminated soil: Chemosphere, v. 170, p. 266-273, doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.12.020
  • Welch, Still, Rice and Stanley, 2017, A new telluride topology: the crystal structure of honeaite Au3TlTe2: Mineralogical Magazine, v. 81, p. 611-618, doi: 10.1180/minmag.2016.080.112.

2016

  • Bindi, Forster, Grundmann, Keutsch and Stanley, 2016, Petricekite, CuSe2, a New Member of the Marcasite Group from the Predborice Deposit, Central Bohemia Region, Czech Republic: Minerals, v. 6, doi: 10.3390/min6020033
  • Bindi, Stanley, Seryotkin, Bakakin, Pal'yanova and Kokh, 2016, The crystal structure of uytenbogaardtite, Ag3AuS2, and its relationships with gold and silver sulfides-selenides: Mineralogical Magazine, v. 80, p. 1031-1040, doi: 10.1180/minmag.2016.080.041
  • Forster, Bindi, Grundmann and Stanley, 2016, Quijarroite, Cu6HgPb2Bi4Se12, a New Selenide from the El Dragon Mine, Bolivia: Minerals, v. 6, doi: 10.3390/min6040123
  • Forster, Bindi and Stanley, 2016, Grundmannite, CuBiSe2, the Se-analogue of emplectite, a new mineral from the El Dragon mine, Potosi, Bolivia: European Journal of Mineralogy, v. 28, p. 467-477, doi: 10.1127/ejm/2016/0028-2513
  • Holwell, Barnes, Le Vaillant, Keays, Fisher and Prasser, 2016, 3D textural evidence for the formation of ultra-high tenor precious metal bearing sulphide microdroplets in offset reefs: An extreme example from the Platinova Reef, Skaergaard Intrusion, Greenland: Lithos, v. 256, p. 55-74, doi: 10.1016/j.lithos.2016.03.020
  • Hughes, McDonald, Faithfull, Upton and Loocke, 2016, Cobalt and precious metals in sulphides of peridotite xenoliths and inferences concerning their distribution according to geodynamic environment: A case study from the Scottish lithospheric mantle: Lithos, v. 240, p. 202-227, doi: 10.1016/j.lithos.2015.11.007
  • Jenkin, Smith, Abbott, Al-Bassam, Holwell and Harris, 2016, Gold and by-product recovery of critical elements from gold ores using deep eutectic solvent ionic liquids: BRIO: Applied Earth Science, v. 125, p. 86-87
  • Jenkin, Al-Bassam, Harris, Abbott, Smith, Holwell, Chapman and Stanley, 2016, The application of deep eutectic solvent ionic liquids for environmentally-friendly dissolution and recovery of precious metals: Minerals Engineering, v. 87, p. 18-24, doi: 10.1016/j.mineng.2015.09.026
  • Parnell, Brolly, Spinks and Bowden, 2016, Selenium enrichment in Carboniferous Shales, Britain and Ireland: Problem or opportunity for shale gas extraction?: Applied Geochemistry, v. 66, p. 82-87, https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.12.008
  • Parnell, Spinks and Bellis, 2016, Low-temperature concentration of tellurium and gold in continental red bed successions: Terra Nova, v. 28, p. 221-227, doi: 10.1111/ter.12213
  • Parnell, Still, Spinks and Bellis, 2016, Gold in Devono-Carboniferous red beds of northern Britain: Journal of the Geological Society, v. 173, p. 245-248, doi: 10.1144/jgs2015-115
  • Rice, Welch, Still, Criddle and Stanley, 2016, Honeaite, a new gold-thallium-telluride from the Eastern Goldfields, Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia: European Journal of Mineralogy, v. 28, p. 979-990, doi: 10.1127/ejm/2016/0028-2559
  • Smith, Naden and Jenkin, 2016, Host rock effects on epithermal Au-Te mineralisation: Applied Earth Science, v. 125, p. 95-96
  • Smith, Holwell, McDonald and Boyce, 2016, The application of S isotopes and S/Se ratios in determining ore-forming processes of magmatic Ni-Cu-PGE sulfide deposits: A cautionary case study from the northern Bushveld Complex: Ore Geology Reviews, v. 73, p. 148-174, doi: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2015.10.022
  • Spinks, Parnell, Bellis and Still, 2016, Remobilization and mineralization of selenium-tellurium in metamorphosed red beds: Evidence from the Munster Basin, Ireland: Ore Geology Reviews, v. 72, p. 114-127, doi: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2015.07.007

2015

  • Abbott, Harris, Holyoak, Frisch, Hartley and Jenkin, 2015, Electrocatalytic recovery of elements from complex mixtures using deep eutectic solvents: Green Chemistry, v. 17, p. 2172-2179, doi: 10.1039/c4gc02246g
  • Bindi, Stanley and Spry, 2015, Cervelleite, Ag4TeS: solution and description of the crystal structure: Mineralogy and Petrology, v. 109, p. 413-419, doi: 10.1007/s00710-015-0384-4
  • Jenner, Hauri, Bullock, Konig, Arculus, Mavrogenes, Mikkelson and Goddard, 2015, The competing effects of sulfide saturation versus degassing on the behavior of the chalcophile elements during the differentiation of hydrous melts: Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, v. 16, p. 1490-1507, doi: 10.1002/2014gc005670
  • Parnell, Bellis, Feldmann and Bata, 2015, Selenium and tellurium enrichment in palaeo-oil reservoirs: Journal of Geochemical Exploration, v. 148, p. 169-173
  • Stanley and Vymazalova, 2015, Kojonenite, a new palladium tin telluride mineral from the Stillwater Layered Igneous Intrusion, Montana, USA: American Mineralogist, v. 100, p. 447-450, doi: 10.2138/am-2015-5057CCBYNCND

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