Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Group’s affiliate Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) delivered the initial batch of high purity scandium oxide for commercial sale at the Sorel-Tracy plant in Quebec this week.
The Sorel-Tracy plant will become the first plant in North America to produce scandium oxide, which is used as an alloy in aluminium to produce specialty aluminium alloys used in the aerospace, defense, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) industries. With commissioning complete, Rio Tinto is concentrating on ramping production up to three metric tons of production per annum. Upon full ramp up the plant will account for about one fifth of all the scandium oxide produced worldwide per year.
Rio Tinto says the plant uses a revolutionary method for extracting scandium oxide designed by RTFT that removes it from waste generated by titanium dioxide production, eliminating the need for new mining.
Although the plant’s current nameplate capacity is three metric tons per annum, Rio Tinto says the firm is eyeing an increase in production capacity at the plant if the market so dictates.
Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director Stéphane Leblanc said in a press release that this is a major first step in sourcing scandium oxide in North America.
“We are very proud of this first production of scandium oxide. 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 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. I want to congratulate our employees who brought this project from the drawing board to commercial demonstration in less than two years,” continued Leblanc.
In addition to its use as an alloy with aluminium, scandium oxide is used in solid oxide fuel cells, lasers, and stadium lighting.