Rio Tinto is building a new commercial scale demonstration plant at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, as it looks to become the first producer of high-quality scandium oxide in North America.
The company is investing approximately A$7,8 million for the construction of a first module in the plant, which will have an initial capacity to produce three tonnes of scandium oxide per year, or approximately 20% of the current global market.
The project is supported with approximately A$850,000 from the Government of Quebec through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals.
RTFT, which operates an open cast ilmenite mine at Lac Tio near Havre-Saint-Pierre, on Quebec’s North Shore, developed an innovative process to extract high purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining at the mine.
Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells – used as a power source for data centres and hospitals – as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. Additionally, it is used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries.
Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director Stéphane Leblanc said the company was proud to offer North America’s first reliable supply of scandium oxide using an innovative and sustainable process.
She said both the high quality scandium oxide and aluminium-scandium master alloy will be commercialised under the business brand name Element North 21.
“Rio Tinto has been engaged in the exploration and production of rare earths and critical minerals globally for a number of years, to meet the demand in new and emerging technologies,” Ms Leblanc continued.
“With the support of Rio Tinto’s aluminium business, we are uniquely positioned to deliver aluminium-scandium master alloys and develop synergies with North America’s manufacturing supply chain.”
The new plant, which will have the ability to add further modules in line with market demand, is expected to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the second quarter of 2021.