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December 19, 2017

Rhenium is one of the rarest elements in Earth’s continental crust; its estimated average crustal abundance is less than 1 part per billion. Rhenium is a metal that has an extremely high melting point and a heat-stable crystalline structure. More than 80 percent of the rhenium consumed in the world is used in high-temperature superalloys, especially those used to make turbine blades for jet aircraft engines. Rhenium’s other major application is in platinum-rhenium catalysts used in petroleum refining.

Rhenium rarely occurs as a native element or as its own sulfide mineral; most rhenium is present as a substitute for molybdenum in molybdenite. Annual world mine production of rhenium is about 50 metric tons. Nearly all primary rhenium production (that is, rhenium produced by mining rather than through recycling) is as a byproduct of copper mining, and about 80 percent of the rhenium obtained through mining is recovered from the flue dust produced during the roasting of molybdenite concentrates from porphyry copper deposits. Molybdenite in porphyry copper deposits can contain hundreds to several thousand grams per metric ton of rhenium, although the estimated rhenium grades of these deposits range from less than 0.1 gram per metric ton to about 0.6 gram per metric ton.

Continental-arc porphyry copper-(molybdenum-gold) deposits supply most of the world’s rhenium production and have large inferred rhenium resources. Porphyry copper mines in Chile account for about 55 percent of the world’s mine production of rhenium; rhenium is also recovered from porphyry copper deposits in the United States, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Peru, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Sediment-hosted strata-bound copper deposits in Kazakhstan (of the sandstone type) and in Poland (of the reduced-facies, or Kupferschiefer, type) account for most other rhenium produced by mining. These types of deposits also have large amounts of identified rhenium resources. The future supply of rhenium is likely to depend largely on the capacity of the specialized processing facilities needed to recover rhenium from molybdenite concentrates.

The environmental consequences of rhenium recovery are closely linked to the consequences of mining large porphyry copper and strata-bound copper deposits; no additional environmental impact from recovery of rhenium from these deposits has been identified. No information is available regarding the potential toxic effects of rhenium on humans, partly because of the low natural abundance of rhenium.

Publication Year 2017
Title Rhenium
DOI 10.3133/pp1802P
Authors David John, Robert R. Seal, Désirée E. Polyak
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1802
Index ID pp1802P
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center