USGS identifier

U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03-018

Published 2004
Online Only
Version 1.0

Mineral Commodity Profiles: Selenium

W.C. Butterman and R.D. Brown, Jr.


Selenium, which is one of the chalcogen elements in group 16 (or 6A) of the periodic table, is a semiconductor that is chemically similar to sulfur for which it substitutes in many minerals and synthetic compounds. It is a byproduct of copper refining and, to a much lesser extent, lead refining. It is used in many applications, the major ones being a decolorizer for glass, a metallurgical additive to free-machining varieties of ferrous and nonferrous alloys, a constituent in cadmium sulfoselenide pigments, a photoreceptor in xerographic copiers, and a semiconductor in electrical rectifiers and photocells.

Refined selenium amounting to more than 1,800 metric tons (t) was produced by 14 countries in 2000. Japan, Canada, the United States, and Belgium, which were the four largest producers, accounted for nearly 85 percent of world production. An estimated 250 t of the world total is secondary selenium, which is recovered from scrapped xerographic copier drums and selenium rectifiers; the selenium in nearly all other uses is dissipated (not recoverable as waste or scrap). The present selenium reserve bases for the United States and the world (including the United States), which are associated with copper deposits, are expected to be able to satisfy demand for selenium for several decades without difficulty.

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