Mining major Rio Tinto is set to become a producer of scandium oxide in North America with the construction of a new commercial scale demonstration plant in Quebec, Canada.

The plant, located at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, is expected to commence production in the second quarter of this year.

Scandium oxide is one of several oxides of rare earth elements used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells. Such fuel cells are used to power data centres and hospitals.

Additionally, it is used to produce aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries.

Rio Tinto will invest $6m to develop the first module in the plant. The facility will have an initial capacity of delivering three tonnes of scandium oxide annually, which represents around 20% of the current global production.

The Government of Quebec has also committed nearly $650,000 for the project.

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By GlobalData

Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director Stéphane Leblanc said: “We are proud to offer North America’s first reliable supply of scandium oxide using an innovative and sustainable process, with the construction of this new plant.

“Rio Tinto has been engaged in the exploration and production of rare earths and critical minerals globally for a number of years, to meet the demand in new and emerging technologies.

“With the support of Rio Tinto’s aluminium business, we are uniquely positioned to deliver aluminium-scandium master alloys and develop synergies with North America’s manufacturing supply chain.”

Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon said: “With this project, Quebec will become the largest producer of this rare metal, which will have a major impact on our exports and Quebec’s supply chains, particularly in key sectors such as the electrification of transportation and aerospace.”

Last month, Rio Tinto named Jakob Stausholm the group’s new CEO. He assumed the role on 1 January.