Rio Tinto enters scandium market with construction of new plant in Canada
15 January 2021
After developing an innovative new process to extract scandium from the by-products generated during the production of titanium dioxide, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) announced that it will become North America’s first producer of high-quality scandium oxide with a new plant under construction at RTFT’s metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Québec.
With an investment of US$6 million and the participation of the Government of Québec, RTFT will have an initial production capacity of three tonnes of scandium oxide per year, representing approximately 20% of the current global market. RTFT expects to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the second quarter of 2021.
With its world-class aluminum business, Rio Tinto is also well positioned to produce aluminum-scandium alloys—of interest, among other applications, in lightweighting for EVs. Both the high quality scandium oxide and aluminum-scandium master alloy will be commercialized under the business brand name Element North 21.
Scandium-aluminum alloy benefits include:
- Higher strength
- Lower density
- Improved thermal properties (high resistance to heat)
- Lighter, more resistant products
- Greater flexibility
- Resistance to thermal shock
- Can be used for 3D printing
- Anti recrystallization effect
- Corrosion performance improvement
- Resistance to hot tearing
The Government of Québec is contributing approximately US$650,000 to the project through the Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The new plant will have the ability to add further modules in line with market demand.
RTFT developed an innovative process it has proven at pilot scale to extract high purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining at its ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Québec.
RTFT’s ilmenite mine in Havre-St-Pierre, QC, (HSP) where the ore is extracted before being shipped by boat to Sorel-Tracy, where it is processed to produce titanium dioxide. The waste stream from that process is now being used to produce scandium.
Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminum-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defense and 3D printing industries.
RTFT has operated in Québec for 70 years and pioneered the process of removing iron from ilmenite. In the last decade, RTFT has focused on developing, marketing and fine-tuning the UGS process, which produces slag with a very high titanium dioxide content sold to pigment producers.