Rio Tinto Plc [RIO-NYSE, ASX, LSE] is set to become North America’s leading producer of scandium oxide with a new commercial scale demonstration plant under construction at the Rio Tinto Fer metallurgical complex and Titane (RTFT) in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.
RTFT operates an open-pit ilmenite mine at Lac Tio, near Havre-Saint Pierre, on the North shore, Montreal. The ore is then sent by boat to its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, where titanium dioxide, pig iron, steel and metal powders are extracted.
The two sites employ roughly 1,600 people.
Rio Tinto discovered scandium oxide in the ore at Lac Tio five years ago.
RTFT expects to begin commercial production of scandium oxide in the second quarter of 2021. With its existing aluminum business, Rio Tinto said it is well positioned to produce aluminum-scandium alloys to meet customer needs.
Adding scandium to aluminum adds considerable strength, retains weldability, and preserves notch strength and corrosion resistance in alloys.
Scandium can also be used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells used as a power source for data centres and hospitals, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting of stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high performance aluminum-scandium master alloys for the aerospace industry, defense and 3D printing.
Scandium International Mining Corp. [SCY-TSX, SCYYF-OTC] recently has filed a provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent Office for the use of various applications of scandium in lithium-ion batteries.
The patent application covers a number of scandium enhancements, including doping potential for both anodes and cathodes, and for solid electrolytes.
Rio Tinto said it will invest US$6 million for construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial production capacity of 3.0 tonnes of scandium oxide per year, representing about 20% of the current world market.
The Quebec government will contribute approximately US$650,000 to the project as part of the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The new plant will have the capacity to add other modules according to market demand.
RTFT has developed an innovative process that it has tested on a pilot scale to extract high purity scandium oxide from the by-products generated during the production of titanium dioxide.
Last year it produced an aluminum-scandium master alloy.