Rio Tinto Group, with aid from the Quebec government, is investing a combined US$6-million to bring a new environmentally friendly scandium project into production, which will be the first steady North American source of the extremely pricey rare earth mineral.
Currently produced as a byproduct of mining other elements such as uranium and titanium, scandium is in tight supply worldwide. China and Russia dominate the market, leaving North American companies at the whim of unreliable and potentially hostile suppliers.
The silvery white metal is used as an alloy to strengthen and lighten aluminum, and in fuel cells as a backup power source.
The Anglo-Australian mining giant plans to build a new scandium plant at its existing Sorel-Tracy metallurgical complex in southwestern Quebec.
Starting in June, the facility will start producing about three tonnes of scandium oxide a year, or about 20 per cent of the current global supply, according to estimates by London-based Rio Tinto and the Quebec government.
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