Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) has announced the start of production of high-purity scandium oxide at its demonstration plant in Quebec, Canada.

This commercial-scale plant is located at RTFT metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy.

Scandium oxide is a critical mineral that is particularly used in solid oxide fuel cells and aluminium alloys.

This makes the miner the first producer of this critical mineral in North America.

The mining firm is now moving ahead to boost production at the demonstration plant, which is designed to have three tonnes of scandium oxide per year of production capacity.

This production represents around 20% of the global market.

Featuring an innovative process developed by RTFT, the facility is capable of extracting high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production. This eliminates the need for additional mining.

The company is also considering near-term expansion options to boost the facility’s production capacity to meet the market demand.

Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director Stéphane Leblanc said: “We are very proud of this first production of scandium oxide. This is a key milestone in the development of a secure supply of scandium, demonstrating our ability to de-risk the global supply chain for this critical mineral.

“With this breakthrough process creating value from waste, Rio Tinto Fer et Titane’s ambition is to become a key supplier in the global scandium market.”

Recently, copper producer Arizona Sonoran Copper (ASCU) announced that Rio Tinto will invest in the firm as part of ASCU’s $23.7m (C$30.5m) non-brokered private placement.