Rio Tinto has completed the commissioning of the first module of the commercial scale demonstration plant at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada. The plant has produced a first batch of high purity scandium oxide — making it the first North American producer of this critical mineral, which is used in aluminum alloys and solid oxide fuel cells.
“We are very proud of this first production of scandium oxide,” said Stéphane Leblanc, managing director of Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium. “This is a key milestone in the development of a secure supply of scandium, demonstrating our ability to de-risk the global supply chain for this critical mineral.”
With commissioning complete, the RTFT team is now focusing on ramping up production to bring the plant to its nameplate capacity of 3 tonnes of scandium oxide per year, representing approximately 20% of the global market. The plant uses an innovative process developed by RTFT to extract high purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining. The company is also considering near-term expansion options to increase production capacity in line with market demand.
“With this breakthrough process creating value from waste, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane’s ambition is to become a key supplier in the global scandium market,” said Leblanc. “I want to congratulate our employees who brought this project from the drawing board to commercial demonstration in less than two years.”
Scandium oxide is used to produce high-performance aluminum-scandium alloys, which provide substantially increased strength, heat and corrosion resistance, and welding properties. These benefits make the alloys ideal for the aerospace, defense, and 3D-printing industries.
In addition, scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are used as a power source for data centers and hospitals. It is also implemented in niche products, such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios.
Both the high quality scandium oxide and aluminum-scandium master alloy will be commercialized under the business brand name Element North 21.