Rio Tinto discovers process to recover scandium from waste material
As part of its efforts to extract valuable minerals from waste materials, Rio Tinto has developed a process in which it can extract the rare earth scandium from its titanium dioxide production process at one of its facilities in Quebec, Canada.
Reuters reported that Rio Tinto is studying ways to commercially produce the mineral.
This is not the first time that Rio Tinto has explored the waste materials produced at its core mining business to recover critical minerals, including rare earth materials.
Currently, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of many of these minerals, including rare earths. That has prompted efforts by politicians and companies in Canada, the United States and elsewhere to try and produce their own supplies.
Rio Tinto said it can now extract scandium oxide from the waste products generated when it makes titanium dioxide, a white pigment, at one of its facilities in Quebec.
The company’s scientists had been studying ways to extract minerals from the waste and discovered high concentrations of scandium, which can be used in lighting and as a strengthening agent for aluminum.
Rio Tinto said scandium was the only rare earth element found in large enough concentrations in the Quebec plant’s waste stream to produce economically.
Rio Tinto added it has started producing small batches of scandium oxide and is talking with potential customers to decide when to move into commercial production. Rio declined to forecast that timeline.
The move “is a great example of how we are looking at our operations across the world with fresh eyes to see how we can extract value from by-product streams,” Rio Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in a statement.
Separately, Rio is also studying ways to extract lithium from waste rock at a California mine and is working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute on rare earths-related research.
Photo: Rio Tinto’s Fer et Titane mine in Quebec. Credit Rio Tinto