Scientists to Build Pyramid Over Volcanic Vent

Russian scientists are building a wooden pyramid over a volcanic vent on an island off the north coast of Japan to try to trap gases containing the rare metal rhenium, the New Scientist reported today.

Rhenium, a hard-wearing silvery metal with a high melting point, is an essential part of aerospace components, satellites and missiles and also is used as a catalyst for producing high-octane fuels.

A Russian expedition on Iturup, a small island that is part of the Kuril chain, is building a test pyramid with a 30-foot square base over a smoke vent on the Kudriavy volcano this month, the magazine said.

The scientists hope rhenium sulphide gas will be trapped in the pyramid and then channeled to another trap filled with a mineral called zeolite, which absorbs the gas.

Pure rhenium sulphide gas can then be released by heating the zeolite, the magazine added.

The Russian rhenium-hunters, led by Alexander Kremenetsky from the Institute of Mineralogy, Geochemistry and Crystal Chemistry of Rare Earth Elements in Moscow, believe they eventually may be able to produce two tons of rhenium a year if they put a cap over Kudriavy’s whole field of smoke vents.

Pricey Per Kilo

This compares to 40-45 tons produced worldwide each year, New Scientist said.

About 15-17 tons are produced annually by Chile’s Molymet, 6 tons by U.S. producer Cyprus-Amax and around 3 tons from Kazakhstan, with further supplies coming from stockpiles.

Other scientists doubt the Russian estimates.

Tobias Fischer, an assistant professor of vulcanology at the University of New Mexico who went to Iturup in 1996, and others have said Kudriavy would produce about 10 times less rhenium than the Russian estimates.

Rhenium trades at about $1,325 a kilo.

Most of the rhenium currently available is a byproduct of molybdenum sulphide which is in turn a byproduct of copper.