Developing a market for scandium oxide – by Trish Saywell (Northern Miner – January 21, 2021)

Global mining news

If you blinked you might have missed the news last week but it was extraordinary: Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO) and the Quebec government announced they are building a commercial-scale demonstration plant to produce scandium oxide in Canada – the first scandium oxide plant in North America.

As Alisha Hiyate, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Mining Journal and Diamonds in Canada magazine pointed out in her article about the new plant on Jan. 14, scandium oxide is used to make high-performance aluminium alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3-D printing industries, and in the production of solid oxide fuel cells. Scandium-enriched alloys are stronger, lighter, corrosion-resistant and weldable.

Rio Tinto will be extracting the critical material from tailings it has generated from processing titanium dioxide. The mining company discovered the scandium oxide in mineralized material from its Lac Tio ilmenite mine in the French-speaking Canadian province five years ago, figured out a way of producing scandium oxide at a purity level of over 99.99%, and last year produced its first aluminum-scandium master alloy.

When I heard the news I started calling around to see what some of the experts think about Rio Tinto’s plan to produce about 3 tonnes of scandium oxide a year when the global market for scandium oxide is estimated at only about 20 tonnes. Is there enough demand to see the market take off?

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