One of the limiting factors in the research and development of photovoltaic (PV) technology and the use of solar panels lies in the rare earth metal tellurium. This rare metal is generally produced as a byproduct of copper refining. With only a small amount being available, it is certainly what is is limiting research and development in the area of photovoltaic technology. However, it has been found that some deep undersea ridges are quite rich in tellurium.
Scientists just recently discovered an enormous deposit of tellurium within a deep undersea ridge in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of north-west Africa. This deposit is especially large, which accentuates its volume, considering seabed concentrations of tellurium can be up to 50,000 times higher than on land.
There are many roadblocks in the way of research and development for deep-sea mining. It is quite obvious the destruction that deep-sea mining could cause, but at a certain point is it worth investing in the technology for the sake of our future remains a key question. Photovoltaic solar panels rely on the film made from tellurium to absorb light much more efficiently. By going all-in on research and development in this type of deep-sea mining could potentially reduce emissions immensely through the widespread implementation of tellurium-based photovoltaic systems. This type of thing is feasible, but has not been done, so the extent of the inevitably destruction is unknown.
This type of expansion into mining exploration will almost certainly require new policies and regulations as well. The future of energy has many different avenues, with solar being one of the big ones. Could this new source be worth the risk for the long-term benefits? Does the rare earth metal source limit solar at some point in the future? Many questions remain and much research and development needs to be done.
Energy is a hot topic and I hope you all consider it in the future, whether it be geothermal, solar, wind, water-based, biomass, nuclear or fossil fuels, there is always something new to consider.
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Major, J. (May 5, 2017). Deep Sea Mining Could Help Develop Mass Solar Energy – Is It Worth The Risk? Retrieved from https://www.rdmag.com/news/2017/05/deep-sea-mining-could-help-develop-mass-solar-energy-it-worth-risk