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Rio Tinto opens Canadian scandium plant to support aluminum alloying

Highlights

Plant will produce 20% of global scandium supply

End-use applications also include fuel cells, lasers

Company considers further investments

Rio Tinto began operations June 17 at its scandium oxide demonstration plant in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, in a move that will support its upcoming production of aluminum-scandium alloys.

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The demonstration plant will have an initial capacity to produce 3 mt/year of scandium oxide once operations are fully ramped up, according to a statement.

"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," Stéphane Leblanc, Rio Tinto's managing director of its iron and titanium segments, said in a statement.

The Quebec plant will utilize a process that extracts high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production. In addition to aluminum alloying, the scandium product will also be marketed to other end-use sectors.

"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," Leblanc said.

Rio Tinto said it was considering the potential for further investments to add modules to the plant in line with market demand.

Rio Tinto began constructing the scandium plant at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane metallurgical complex in January. At the time, the company said its planned aluminum-scandium alloy production would be directed at the aerospace, defense and 3D printing industries.

In March, Rio Tinto signed an agreement to provide its first commercial batch of high-performance aluminum-scandium alloy billets to metal additive manufacturer Amaero, which will process the billets into powder for high-temperature 3D printing applications.