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Rio Tinto becomes first North American producer of scandium oxide

Scandium. Image from Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) announced Friday it has produced a first batch of high purity scandium oxide at its commercial scale demonstration plant in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. This makes RTFT the first North American producer of the critical mineral, used in solide oxide fuel cells and in aluminium alloys.

RTFT has completed commissioning activities, and is now focusing on production ramp up to bring the plant to its nameplate capacity of three tonnes of scandium oxide per year, representing approximately 20% of the global market.

The plant uses an innovative process developed by RTFT to extract high purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining.

The company said it is also considering near-term expansion options to increase production capacity in line with market demand.

 “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,” Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director Stéphane Leblanc said in a media statement.  

“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,” said Leblanc. “Our employees brought this project from the drawing board to commercial demonstration in less than two years.”

Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are used as a power source for data centres and hospitals, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries.