Rusal Mulling Industrial-Scale Production of Scandium Oxide from Red Mud

Pilot unit at Rusal's UAZ producing scandium oxide. Source: UC Rusal

With the results of a successful pilot program in hand, Russian Federation aluminium behemoth U. C. Rusal revealed yesterday that plans are in the works to build a scandium oxide (Sc2O3) production unit at Urals Aluminium Smelter (UAZ).

Rusal says the results from a series of test programs over the past several years proving up the feasibility of harvesting scandium oxide from red mud. Although tried in the past by others, the method developed by Rusal is economically feasible due to the process being part and parcel of the alumina production process. The firm says previous attempts required additional acidic, toxic and/or fire-hazardous chemicals as well as generating toxic wastewater, all of which made prior efforts at isolating scandium oxide ineffective from a financial perspective.

Rusal’s investigation into the process began in 2016 which yielded a batch of scandium oxide with a purity of over 99 percent. In the intervening years the firm continued improvements, which increased the rate of recovery, improved the quality of the scandium oxide captured, and reduced the amount of chemicals used in the process.

Rusal’s technical director Victor Mann lauds the achievement as a net positive for the firm both internally and for its client base.

“Fundamentally, we are entering a new stage of our scandium project. Once the feasibility study is complete, we will know all the key parameters for the industrial-scale unit, including the location, capacity and timeframes. RUSAL’s entry into this new market will cover our internal demand for this strategic material and will also expand the range of our value-added products for our export markets.”

Rusal anticipates spending another ₽50 million (US$879,000) to complete the pilot programs with the goal of confirming the economic feasibility of building a full-scale unit at one of its existing plants. Once full-scale production is achieved, the firm plans to utilize the scandium oxide produced in the production of aluminium-scandium alloys.

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