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."[1] 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 Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

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 strength, heat 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.[2]

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 manufacturing sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defence, and clean technology."[3]

In 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.[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]


1. Element North 21, Rio Tinto 

2. Project Scandium Aluminium Europe (SCALE) supported by the European Commission.

3. "Canada and U.S. Finalize Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration," News Release, Natural Resources Canada, January 9, 2020 

4. "Canada-U.S. 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 

5. "Summit 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

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