Scandium is a valuable mineral that, when used as an alloying element, can provide distinct benefits to some aluminium applications. The commercial application of this mineral has been limited by its availability on the market. Looking to address this challenge, Rio Tinto researchers have developed a new process to extract high purity scandium oxide from by-products generated in the production of titanium dioxide (TiO2) at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical operation in Sorel-Tracy; Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA) started the production of aluminium-scandium master alloy and proprietary alloys at the Dubuc facility, both located in Quebec, Canada.
In January 2021, Rio Tinto announced the construction of a scandium plant. Now in commissioning, the facility has a capacity of 3t years of high-quality scandium oxide and is looking at next modules to increase capacity. RTFT, part of Rio Tinto Iron & Titanium (RTIT), processes limonite ore to produce titanium dioxide pigment feedstock. The slag upgrading process generates a process stream with relatively high scandium content, which until recently ended up in landfill. The RTIT Technology Center has been working since 2015 to develop a process to recover scandium. The new process enables Rio Tinto to turn residues into high quality scandium oxide, creating value and an efficient circular system from what was previously waste.