Currently China dominates the production of the rare earth oxide, mining giant Rio Tinto wants to change that.
The rare earth metal scandium is used in aviation for lightweight alloys, but also in 3D printing of workpieces. If one believes the predictions of the German raw materials agency DERA, another application will significantly increase the demand for scandium in the future: The production of hydrogen by means of solid oxide electrolysis. In this process, scandium is used as a dopant.
The sustainable production and use of hydrogen plays an important role on the road to climate neutrality, as it does in the German hydrogen strategy. According to DERA, the ramp-up of hydrogen production poses supply risks for this raw material, because production is limited to only a few countries, with China having the largest market share at about 75 percent.
If mining giant Rio Tinto has its way, Canada could become another scandium production heavyweight in the future. The company recently reported that a first batch of high-purity scandium oxide has been produced at its demonstration plant in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec province. Rio Tinto is thus the first producer of this strategic raw material in North America. The feedstock comes from the production of titanium dioxide, so separate mining is not necessary, the company said.
Rio Tinto is aiming for a capacity of three metric tons of scandium oxide per year, which corresponds to about 20% of the world market.