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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.
John, D.A., Seal, R.R., II, and Polyak, D.E., 2017, Rhenium, chap. P of Schulz, K.J., DeYoung, J.H., Jr., Seal, R.R., II, and Bradley, D.C., eds., Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1802, p. P1–P49, https:/doi.org/10.3133/pp1802P.
ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)
ISSN: 1044-9612 (print)
Table of Contents
- Resources and Production
- Exploration for New Deposits
- Environmental Considerations
- Problems and Future Research
- References Cited
- Table P2 and Appendix P1
- Appendix P1. Rhenium Data Sources and Limitations of Data Used in Rhenium Resource Estimates
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series title||Professional Paper|
|Publisher||U.S. Geological Survey|
|Publisher location||Reston, VA|
|Contributing office(s)||Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center|
|Description||viii, 49 p.|
|Larger Work Type||Report|
|Larger Work Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Larger Work Title||Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Additional Online Files (Y/N)||N|