The Quebec, Canada-based subsidiary Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) has broken ground on the demonstration facility at the existing Sorel-Tracy metallurgical complex. The plant is expected to start producing scandium oxide in the second quarter.
The expectation is the plant will feed into Rio's established aluminium business to produce aluminium-scandium alloys. Rio will be able to scale output via modular expansions in future.
The Quebec government has agreed to make a C$650,000 contribution through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals.
The plant will draw on feedstock produced from existing titanium dioxide production, negating the need for additional mining from the company's ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre.
Scandium oxide is used to improve solid oxide fuel cells' performance as a power source for data centres and hospitals and in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries.