New project investigates sources of rare elements vital for solar power

University of Leicester scientists are leading an multinational team investigating better ways of recovering key materials for generating solar power.

Solar power is one of the world's fastest-growing sources of electricity. However, the continued growth of photovoltaic power and its ability to compete with fossil fuels depends on an uninterrupted supply of raw materials, including the rare and difficult to recover elements tellurium (Te) and selenium (Se).

Dr Dan Smith, Dr Gawen Jenkin and Dr Dave Holwell from the Department of Geology and Professor Andrew Abbott from Department of Chemistry have recently received funds to lead a multinational research team to study these vital raw materials, in the project: Tellurium and Selenium Cycling and Recovery (TeaSe). The team have received £2.4 million in funds from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) under the Security of Supply of Minerals programme, with over half a million additional funds coming from participating research institutes and industrial partners.

The four-year TeaSe project will study the geological processes that move and concentrate tellurium and selenium through the Earth's crust, and pioneer environmentally benign methods of recovering these elements. Recovery techniques include microbiological processes, and novel solvent design, led by the University of Leicester’s Chemistry Department.

The team includes researchers from Aberdeen, Cardiff, Dundee, Durham, Edinburgh, the Open University, the Natural History Museum and the James Hutton Institute. They will work with over twenty companies from around the world involved in the extraction, processing and use of tellurium and selenium, to ensure security of supply of these key raw materials, and to make the UK a world leader in the development of sustainable energy supply.

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