Rio Tinto Partners with the Department of Energy to Unlock Domestic Mineral Potential

What most people don’t know is that many of the consumer products they use and the materials necessary for our transportation, energy and communications systems, rely on rare, hard to find minerals whose names may be totally foreign to them.

Rarely will you hear the everyday consumer praising scandium, rhenium, tellurium or other critical elements. But without them, many products—from batteries to cellphones, wind turbines to solar panels—simply wouldn’t be possible. They are both necessary and hard to find.

As a company that produces 20 percent of U.S. copper, Rio Tinto recognized that, with the right technology, the U.S. may be able to more fully utilize the minerals we are already extracting. Specifically, key rare critical minerals can be recovered during the copper smelting process. To explore this potential to its fullest, the company has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute.

“CMI’s focus on the materials required for the US to be a global leader in clean-tech manufacturing fits well with our operational expertise in mining and smelting,” said Nigel Steward, managing director of Rio Tinto Copper and Diamonds Operations. “We know there’s a potential to recover more rare metals and minerals in our current smelting process. We just need to find ways to do it more efficiently and economically. We are excited to be working with CMI to find innovative solutions.”

The U.S. is currently more than 50 percent import-dependent for 43 key mineral resources, subjecting our supply chain to geopolitical instability and supply disruption. The more America can extract its own minerals instead of relying on imports, the better.

Rio Tinto is also looking at extracting those rare minerals from electronic waste like old cellphones. E-waste contains higher grade mineral content than newly extracted minerals.

Steward explained how identifying ways to improve efficiency and increase recycling is both environmentally responsible and smart business, “Rio Tinto has been at the forefront of companies that recognize climate change as a risk to our business, but we also believe the transition to a clean power economy creates economic opportunity.”