According to a confidential company source pv magazine spoke with, First Solar has already invested in the tellurium mine. While the thin film manufacturer would not officially confirm the investment, it did say, "we are exploring a variety of tellurium mineral claims in various locations and expect to develop some of these tellurium resources in the future."
Rumors about a First Solar mine arose after gold exploring companies mentioned a First Solar tellurium mine in their publications. As the anonymous source explained to pv magazine, mining has not yet begun. However, the aim is to help secure the supply of tellurium in the long-term. Thus far, First Solar has purchased the raw material almost exclusively from Canadian processor, 5N Plus.
The mine is located in the Sonora region of Northern Mexico, around 200 kilometres from the U.S. border. Gold prospector California Gold, which also mines in the area, has confirmed First Solars activities. Company boss James Davidson even spoke about a joint-venture project when he announced the purchase of a gold and tellurium mine by the name of AuroTellurio in spring.
According to his information, the mine bordered onto First Solars, which is known as La Bombolla a historic mine with significant deposits of both gold and tellurium. Furthermore, according to another document filed by California Gold to the U.S. stock exchange authority SEC, "the Bombolla Concession is owned by the Mexican company Minera Teloro SA de CV."
First Solar confirmed to pv magazine that Minera Teloro is a corporate subsidiary. Even if the company is unwilling to disclose its subsidiarys business objective, the company name Teloro combining the first syllables of tellurium and the Spanish word for gold (oro) leaves little room for any other interpretation than the mining of tellurium and gold.
A recently published study of the Institute for Energy (IE) at the Joint Research Center (JRC), the European Commissions research facility, shows that the decision of investing in mines makes sense as shortages for metals like tellurium, indium and gallium might occur in the future.
The study, ‘Critical Metals in Strategic Energy Technologies’, highlights "high risks of supply chain bottlenecks" for certain metals that could be became important, if the EU implements its strategies of reducing C02 emissions with the help of "low carbon" energy technologies like solar.
For Tellurium, the study states a likelihood of rapid demand growth and limitations to expanding production capacity. "If we consider an optimistic development scenario for photovoltaics, then in 2020 the tellurium requirement for photovoltaic plants in Europe alone could account for almost 50 percent of the worldwide supply in 2010," Raymond Moss from the JRC-IE told pv magazine.
Read more on the subject in the November issue of pv magazine.