Rio Tinto will become the first producer of high quality scandium oxide in North America, with construction of a new commercial scale demonstration plant underway at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy in Quebec in Canada. RTFT expects to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the June quarter of 2021. With its existing aluminium business, Rio says it is also well positioned to produce aluminium-scandium alloys to meet customer’s needs.
The company is investing CAD 6 million for the construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial capacity to produce 3 tonne per year of scandium oxide, or approximately 20% of the current global market. The Government of Quebec is contributing around CAD 650,000 to the project through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The new plant will have the ability to add further modules in line with market demand, Rio says.
RTFT developed a process it has proven at pilot scale to extract high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining at its ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec.
Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are 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. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries, according to Rio.
Both the high-quality scandium oxide and aluminium-scandium master alloy will be commercialised under the business brand name Element North 21.