Rio Tinto moves into scandium market
To recover critical alloy metal from titanium mine in Quebec Metal Tech News – January 20, 2021
Last updated 1/26/2021 at 5:18pm
Rio Tinto's titanium and iron facility in Quebec will soon be producing scandium, a critical metal used by the aerospace, defense, and high-tech sectors. This will make the global mining company the first commercial scale producer of high-quality scandium oxide in North America.
A metal that is often associated with rare earths because they tend to be found alongside the 15 lanthanide elements and have similar chemical properties, scandium has traditionally been used in lightweight and strong aluminum-scandium alloys for aerospace components and sports equipment. In recent years, however, solid oxide fuel cells have emerged as the primary use for this metal. Ceramics, electronics, lasers, lighting, and 3D printing are emerging areas of demand for scandium.
Looking to produce roughly three metric tons of scandium per year, which is about 20% of the current global market, Rio Tinto is investing US$6 million for the construction of a first module of a commercial scale demonstration plant at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (iron and titanium) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.
Already proven at the pilot scale, this plant will extract high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production at its Lac Tio mine near Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec.
"We are proud to offer North America's first reliable supply of scandium oxide using an innovative and sustainable process, with the construction of this new plant," said Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium Managing Director Stéphane Leblanc.
The provincial government is contributing approximately US$650,000 to the scandium recovery project through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals.
"The step just taken today by Rio Tinto Fer et Titane has the potential to position Quebec as a world leader in the extraction and commercialization of scandium," said Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon. "With this project, Quebec will become the largest producer of this rare metal, which will have a major impact on our exports and Quebec's supply chains, particularly in key sectors such as the electrification of transportation and aerospace."
Rio Tinto said the scandium recovered from the new plant will also dovetail with its aluminum operations in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.
"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," said Leblanc.
To fully realize this potential, Rio Tinto has formed Element North 21, a business to commercialize its scandium products.
Deriving its name from scandium's number on the periodic table and the business' Canadian headquarters, Element North 21 will initially offer three scandium products – 99.9% pure scandium oxide, a standard aluminum-scandium alloy, and specialized aluminum-scandium alloys for aerospace and 3D printing applications.
Rio Tinto said it will be able to scale up scandium production to meet market demands by adding additional modules to its scandium recovery plant in Quebec.