Infrastructure Projects Related to Minerals Critical to U.S. War Economy
Rio Tinto Announces Scandium Oxide Pilot Plant in Sorel-Tracy
Rio Tinto has announced that it "will become the first producer of
high-quality scandium oxide in North America" with a new
commercial-scale pilot plant to be built in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.
On one of Rio Tinto's websites dedicated entirely to scandium, we
learn that the company has "developed a new process to extract high
purity scandium oxide from the ilmenite ore at our metallurgical
installation in Quebec, Canada."
The mining and metallurgical company has developed a new
process to extract scandium oxide, classified as a critical mineral,
from by-products generated during the production of titanium dioxide at
the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in
Scandium is used to produce high performance aluminum alloys. It is
a silvery white metallic element that falls into the rare earth
category which, when used in small quantities, has drastic effects on
properties of matter. Addition of only 0.1 to 0.2 per cent of
scandium in aluminum alloys substantially increases mechanical
and corrosion resistance, as well as improves welding properties.
In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union had developed scandium-aluminum
alloys which were used in the construction of military aircraft,
advantageous for fighter jets such as the Mig-21 and Mig-29, as well as
for missiles, in terms of weight, maneuverability and range.
In recent years, the U.S., Canada, Australia and the European Union
have all classified scandium as a critical mineral. In January 2020,
Canada and the U.S. finalized a Canada-U.S. action plan on
critical minerals collaboration to secure supply chains for critical
minerals -- such as scandium -- which are "needed for important
sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defence, and
February 2020, TML Weekly published an article entitled "Canada-U.S.
Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration -- No to Canada's
Integration into the U.S. Imperialist War Economy!" The article
explains how the federal and Quebec governments had been working hand
in hand since 2019 with the U.S. Trump administration to
ensure the supply chain of 35 strategic and critical minerals for the
U.S. war economy.
Now further developments will take place with regard to strategic
minerals, as revealed in the Joint Statement issued following the
bilateral virtual meeting held between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
and U.S. President Joe Biden on February 23, in which "[t]he leaders
agreed to strengthen the Canada-U.S. Critical Minerals Action Plan to
target a net-zero industrial transformation, batteries for
zero-emissions vehicles, and renewable energy storage."
Currently, global demand is estimated at between 12 and 15 metric
tonnes per year, mainly supplied by China and Russia. With the new
applications that are being developed, this demand is set to grow. Some
analysts are predicting that by 2028, the demand could be as much as
300 metric tonnes per year. Rio Tinto's first module pilot plant
expected to begin production by the end of June 2021, will have a
capacity for three metric tonnes per year of scandium oxide. A Rio
Tinto spokesperson noted that the plant can be scaled up by adding more
modules to meet demand. Production could be increased to reach
over 12 metric tonnes annually according to estimates provided.
Rio Tinto's scandium website mentions that the company's operations
in Quebec are "a new innovative, reliable and accessible alternative to
existing and limited sources of scandium in the market. [The]
advantageous geographic location in northern Quebec, Canada, is ideal
for efficiently supplying the North American market."
1. Element North 21, Rio Tinto
2. Project Scandium Aluminium Europe (SCALE) supported by the European Commission.
and U.S. Finalize Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals
Collaboration," News Release, Natural Resources Canada, January 9, 2020
Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration - No to Canada's
Integration into the U.S. Imperialist War Economy! - Fernand
Deschamps", TMLWeekly #2, February 1, 2020
Between Canadian Prime Minister and U.S. President -Joint Statement of
President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau at the Conclusion of Their
Meeting, TML Monthly, March 7, 2021.
6. Element North 21, Rio Tinto.
This article was published in
March 22, 2021 - No. 20