Rio Tinto intends to become the largest producer of high quality scandium oxide on the North American continent. To achieve this, a new plant is under construction at the Sorel-Tracy metallurgical complex, in Montérégie.
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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 used to manufacture lasers and lighting for stadiums and studios, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) added, Thursday, in a statement.
RTFT is investing $ 6 million to fit out a first module with a production capacity of three tonnes per year in the new facilities. This capacity is equivalent to around 20% of the global scandium oxide market, in which China is a major player.
Leader in North America
Commercial production of scandium oxide could be launched as early as the second quarter of fiscal 2021 under the Element North 21 brand.
Other production modules could be added eventually and RTFT also aims to produce aluminum-scandium alloys, which are used in the aerospace industry, defense and 3D printing.
“With the construction of this new plant, we are proud to offer the first reliable source of scandium oxide in North America using an innovative and sustainable process,” said Stéphane Leblanc, Executive Director Rio Tinto Fer et Titane.
“Rio Tinto has been engaged in the exploration and production of rare earths and critical minerals globally for several years, in order to meet the demand for new and emerging technologies,” he added. With the support of Rio Tinto Aluminum, we are in a unique position to supply aluminum-scandium master alloys and develop synergies with the manufacturing supply chain in North America. ”
RTFT employs a total of 1,600 people at its opencast ilmenite mine near Havre-Saint-Pierre and at its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, where the ore is shipped by boat.
RTFT has developed a process by which it extracts high purity scandium oxide from the byproducts of the production of titanium dioxide. It is therefore not necessary to “extract more ore at its ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre” to produce scandium oxide.
The Quebec government, which is injecting $ 650,000 into this project as part of the Quebec Plan for the valuation of critical and strategic minerals, is delighted with the valuation of mining residues, said the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan. Julian.
“The step that has just been taken today by Rio Tinto Fer et Titane has the potential to position Quebec as a world leader in scandium extraction and its marketing,” said Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Quebec’s Economy and Innovation.
“With this project, Quebec will become the largest producer of this rare metal which will have major spinoffs on our exports and our Quebec supply chains, particularly in our key sectors such as the electrification of transport and aeronautics, a- he continued. I salute the entire RTFT team for this project, which combines innovation and responsible use of our resources. ”