Sierrita Mine is only U.S. source of Rhenium

Freeport McMoRan’s Sierrita mine south of Tucson is the only U.S. source of Rhenium, a metal used in high-temperature super-alloy turbine blades for jet aircraft and other land-based turbines. About 6% rhenium in the jet turbine blades allow the engines to develop much more thrust. Rhenium is also used, with platinum, as a catalyst to make high-octane hydrocarbons which are used in lead-free gasoline. Other uses, mainly as alloys with tungsten or molybdenum, include electrical contact points, flashbulbs, heating elements, metallic coatings, thermocouples, and x-ray tubes.

Rhenium occurs in the mineral molybdenite (molybdenum sulfide), a by-product of some porphyry copper mines. When the molybdenite concentrate is roasted, rhenium is recovered from the stack gases. Currently, the Sierrita plant is the only one in the U.S. equipped to recover rhenium. Rhenium is sold as powdered metal and as ammonium perrhenate for about $10,000 per kilogram. In 2008 (the latest figures available from the USGS), Sierrita produced almost 8,000 kilograms.

Sierrita’s production represents about 15% of our total consumption. Our major imports of rhenium metal come from Chile, Germany, and the Netherlands. Rhenium as ammonium perrhenate is imported from Chile, China, Germany, and Kazakhstan.

Possible future sources of rhenium involve recycling turbine blades from older decommissioned jet turbine blades which contain 3% rhenium. However, the technology does not yet exist. Another possible source would be to equip more molybdenum plants with the equipment to recover rhenium.

Data source: United States Geological Survey

7 comments

  1. A new moly plant is being built at Bingham Canyon that is scheduled to produce 3-5 tons of rhenium starting in 2012-13. Curiously there is rhenium (low ppm range) reported in the collapse uranium breccia pipes of Northern Arizona.
    What type of deposit produces rhenium in the Netherlands?

    1. As far as I could find, The Netherlands doesn’t mine any rhenium, they instead import molybdenite or moly oxide from Chile and process that to recover rhenium.

  2. Does all of the 8,000 kg of rhenium attributed to the Sierrita Mine actually come from the Sierrita deposit, or does the rhenium plant at Sierrita treat molybdenum concentrates from other deposits in Arizona and elsewhere? It is highly unlikely that  a single porphyry copper deposit such as Sierrita could produce 8 tonnes of rhenium per year.

  3. Dave, you are right. Upon checking with the company I found that Sierrita processes molybdenum produced from Freeport-owned Sierrita and Bagdad mines mainly, but it also processes molybdenum from third parties on a toll basis.

  4. Dear Sirs,

    Your survey is generally correct but as mentioned above the 125 years old mine of Bingham Canyon generates Re contained in the molybdenite which used to go to Molymet in Chile where the molybdenite was toll-roasted into Mo products. The Rhenium was too low in concentration to be paid as a credit despite its value. That is one of the reasons that from 2012-13 RTZ who owns Bingham Canyon has invested over $250 mln in a new molybdenum autoclave process to recover both the Mo and Re that was sent to Chile. Thus the US will add another 2-3 mt per year of home production and Chile might in theory lose some units. The other point is that the price reach $12,000 per kg on the free market in August 2008 but is now (Oct 2010) $4500 per kg Re having reached a low of circa $25000-3000 per kg Re in mid 2009. Rhenium is noth rare in nature and in commercial production and is also currently unsubstitutable in nickel base alloys for single crystal turbine blades. The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine operates at 1700 degrees centigrade for which these alloys are designed.

    Anthony Lipmann
    Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd, UK
    Trade suppliers and recyclers of Rhenium

  5. Jim,

    I was wondering where you found that arizona breccia pipes had low ppm Rhenium? Also, how many PPM is Low?  I have two breccia pipe claims and am working on two more. I have not seen anything in print anywhere that talked about Rhenium in the pipes. Several of my surface mineralizations have 1oos of ppm Moly so I might expect some Rhenium in there or in the actual ore of the pipe.

    Unfortunately, at this time there would be no way to recover anything but the uranium, since the White Mesa mill only recovers uranium and vanadium.
    Arizona needs a specialty mill for breccia pipe ores.

    Gregory Yount
    Manager
    The NAU project, LLC.

Comments are closed.