For the InstructorThese student materials complement the Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.
Tellurium as an Example of Factors That Affect the Price of a Mineral Resource, and Hence the Amount of Mining That Takes Place
Tellurium bonds with metals (such as gold, copper, etc.) to make telluride minerals. Tellurium is most often mined by processing the electrolyte sludges from copper mining. Since 2000, tellurium prices have fluctuated dramatically but not as a result of mining; the amount of mining has mostly stayed the same.
In recent years, thin films that use the element tellurium (Te) have become desirable as solar cells. This new technology resulted in an increase in demand for this metal. As a result, the price of Te also increased. These three factors are highlighted in the Unit 2 concept map shown here:
The increased price should prompt an increase in production, but instead demand was met with existing supplies of tellurium. Companies did explore options of opening new mines but did not open any.
Tellurium is also used in metallurgy (to make alloys). Once tellurium's price spiked, metallurgists sought replacement metals. This decreased demand slightly, although demand from solar manufacturers continued to rise. This new set of factors is highlighted in the Unit 2 concept map here:
In 2010, the demand for solar cells dropped (as the consumers who wanted solar panels had purchased them already). Solar energy companies cut production or went out of business. Because the demand by solar energy companies dropped, tellurium's price fell as well.
George, Michael W. March 2013. "Tellurium: Mineral Resource of the Month." EARTH Magazine.