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Tellurium: providing a bright future for solar energy

April 22, 2015

Tellurium is one of the least common elements on Earth. Most rocks contain an average of about 3 parts per billion tellurium, making it rarer than the rare earth elements and eight times less abundant than gold. Grains of native tellurium appear in rocks as a brittle, silvery-white material, but tellurium more commonly occurs in telluride minerals that include varied quantities of gold, silver, or platinum. Tellurium is a metalloid, meaning it possesses the properties of both metals and nonmetals.

Tellurium was discovered within gold ores in the late 1780s in Transylvania, Romania. Fifteen years later, the element was isolated as a distinct substance and named tellurium, after the Latin word “tellus,” which means “fruit of the Earth.” Recovered tellurium has historically been used in metallurgy as an additive to stainless steel and in alloys made with copper, lead, and iron.

Because of its low abundance, little is known about environmental baseline concentrations for tellurium or its toxic effect on humans and ecosystems. Human exposure to tellurium can lead to a garlic odor on the breath, nausea, and eventual respiratory problems.

Publication Year 2015
Title Tellurium: providing a bright future for solar energy
DOI 10.3133/fs20143077
Authors Richard J. Goldfarb
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Fact Sheet
Series Number 2014-3077
Index ID fs20143077
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Mineral Resources Program