Mining and metals company Rio Tinto has developed a new method to recover high-purity scandium oxide, a rare earth, using waste from the production of titanium dioxide (TiO2) at its production facility in Canada. The company is exploring ways to commercialize the process and have moved the scandium extraction processing from a lab to a larger pilot plant. Researchers have been using the method since 2019 at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) research and development center.
Scandium has been expensive and costly to produce, which has held back the market for the rare earth. The mineral is extracted from only a few sources globally in Australia, China, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Norway, Russia, and Ukraine. The US is also currently developing a rare earth mining project that includes scandium. Production in recent years has been from 15 to 20 metric tons annually.
According to the company, the new scandium extraction method should allow for low production costs and minimal capital investment because the scandium is produced from a product previously treated as a waste by-product. The company is headquartered in London, England. Its RTFT research and development center is located in Sorel-Tracy, QC. The company’s Fer et Titane mine is located at Lac Tio near Havre-Saint-Pierre.