Rio Tinto builds commercial-scale scandium plant

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Rio Tinto recently announced the construction of a commercial-scale scandium demonstration plant.

The commercial-scale scandium plant, to be build at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, will become the first producer of high-quality scandium oxide in North America. The company expects to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the second quarter of 2021. With its world-class aluminium business, Rio Tinto is also well positioned to produce aluminium-scandium alloys to meet customer’s needs.

The company is investing USD6m for the construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial production capacity of 3tpy, which is 20% of the current global market. The Government of Quebec is contributing USD0.650m 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.

Commercial-scale scandium plant to serve a variety of markets

RTFT developed an innovative 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.

Stéphane Leblanc, managing director of Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium, said: “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. 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.”

Both the high quality scandium oxide and aluminium-scandium master alloy will be commercialized under the business brand name Element North 21.

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