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Diversified miner Rio Tinto has started operations at a new commercial-scale demonstration plant to produce high-quality scandium oxide at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

The $6-million project, in which the government of Quebec contributed approximately $650 000 through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals, was completed on time and on budget, less than six months after the start of construction.

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.

Commissioning work is now being undertaken as production ramps up to a capacity of 3 t/y of scandium oxide. RTFT is already considering the potential for further investments to add additional modules in line with market demand.

“For the first time, customers will benefit from a North American supply of scandium oxide for applications in solid oxide fuel cells, lasers, lighting products or as an additive to produce high-performance alloys,” said Rio Tinto iron and titanium MD Stéphane Leblanc.

“In less than two years, we have gone from testing a process to extract this critical material in a lab to being able to supply approximately 20% of the global market. This is a testament to our team’s capacity to think outside the box and deliver on our commitments.”

Quebec Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonatan Julien said he was pleased to see this major critical and strategic minerals project come to fruition in Quebec.

“It will help strengthen the security of our supply and add value to our industrial waste from the mining sector. It is also consistent with the government’s vision of creating wealth in a greener economy. I wish Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium and the team at this new plant every success!”

This project is part of a series of innovations supported by Rio Tinto’s Critical Minerals and Technology Centre in the field of critical minerals and materials, including the recent launch of a water atomized steel powder for three-dimensional printing applications.

In March, the company announced an agreement to provide a first batch of high-performance aluminium-scandium alloy from its North American operations to Amaero, a leader in metal additive manufacturing.