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Rio Tinto Extracts Scandium at Fer et Titane

Metal News - Published on Fri, 29 May 2020

Image Source: Rio Tinto Scandium
Rio Tinto researchers have developed a new process to extract high purity scandium oxide, a critical mineral, from by-products generated in the production of titanium dioxide at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane metallurgical operation in Sorel-Tracy in Quebec. The RTFT metallurgical operation in Sorel-Tracy processes ilmenite ore to produce titanium dioxide feedstocks. Researchers in the RTFT Research & Development Centre have developed a new process to extract high purity scandium oxide from by-products generated in the production of titanium dioxide feedstocks. Since the second half of 2019, a lab has been producing high quality scandium oxide that meets market specifications and the process is now being used at a larger scale in a pilot plant.

Rio Tinto is also trialling the production of small quantities of high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloy using the scandium oxide produced by RTFT with its world class aluminium business, also based in Quebec. This disruptive process presents low production costs and requires minimal capital investment:
No direct mining costs
Recovery of scandium oxide directly from by-products from the existing metallurgical plant
Operating independently from existing assets with no impact on the main process flow
Rio Tinto says it is seeing strong interest in the market and is now assessing the potential to progress to industrial scale scandium oxide production. The potential timing, scale and investment in industrial production are being considered.

Scandium is a silvery-white, rare earth metallic element. The United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union have all listed it as a critical mineral in recent years. Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are used as a power source for buildings, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. Scandium is also used to produce high-performance aluminum alloys. Small additions of scandium into aluminum alloys increase strength, heat and corrosion resistance, and welding properties substantially.

Since the 1980s, scandium-aluminium alloys have been used for structural purposes to provide weight, manoeuverability and range advantages to military aircraft. Today, aluminium-scandium-magnesium alloy powder is even used in 3D printing. Numerous applications have also been developed for sports equipment such as baseball bats, lacrosse sticks and bicycle frames. Kona Bikes estimates that scandium enables them to “shave weight from their aluminum frames by 10-to-15%.”

Security of supply issues and a high cost of production have limited the growth of demand for scandium for many years, with the current market estimated to represent 12-14 t per annum, according to the Scandium Aluminium Europe project.

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Posted By : Yogender Pancholi on Fri, 29 May 2020
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