Tag Archives: scandium oxide

Rio Tinto Kennecott to recover tellurium from copper smelting

Rio Tinto is to construct a new plant that will recover tellurium, a critical mineral used in solar panels, from copper refining at its Kennecott mine near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The company is investing $2.9 million to set up the plant, which will recover tellurium as a by-product of copper smelting, extracting a valuable mineral from waste streams. The plant will have a capacity to produce around 20 t/y of tellurium, the miner said.

Rio expects to begin production of tellurium in the December quarter of 2021, creating a new North American supply chain for the critical mineral.

Tellurium is an essential component of cadmium telluride, a semiconductor used to manufacture thin film photovoltaic solar panels. Thin films made of this compound can efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, according to the miner. Tellurium can also be used as an additive to steel and copper to improve machinability, making these metals easier to cut. It can also be added to lead to increase resistance to sulphuric acid, vibration and fatigue.

Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director, Gaby Poirier, said: “The minerals and metals we produce are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Adding tellurium to our product portfolio provides customers in North America with a secure and reliable source of tellurium produced at the highest environmental and labour standards with renewable energy. Rio Tinto is committed to using innovation to reduce waste in our production process and extract as much value as possible from the material that we mine and process.”

Utah Governor, Spencer Cox, said: “With abundant natural resources, Utah is ideally positioned to help supply the critical minerals essential to maintain American manufacturing competitiveness. Rio Tinto’s smelter at Kennecott is one of only two that is capable of producing copper and other critical minerals. The new tellurium plant is another valuable contribution to critical mineral independence and energy security in the US”

Along with producing almost 20% of US copper, Kennecott’s smelting process also recovers gold, silver, lead carbonate, platinum, palladium and selenium, while molybdenum is recovered from the Copperton concentrator. In total, nine products are currently recovered from the ore extracted at Kennecott.

Rio Tinto is a partner with the US Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and works closely with CMI experts to discover further ways to economically recover critical mineral by-products such as rhenium, tellurium and lithium. The company is also investing in new facilities to extract battery-grade lithium from waste rock at its Boron, California mine site and high quality scandium oxide from waste streams at its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

Rio Tinto to establish high-quality scandium oxide production in Canada

Rio Tinto says it will become the first producer of high-quality scandium oxide in North America, with construction of a new commercial scale demonstration plant underway at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada.

RTFT expects to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the June quarter of 2021. With its existing aluminium business, Rio says it is also well positioned to produce aluminium-scandium alloys to meet customer’s needs.

The company is investing $6 million for the construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial capacity to produce 3 t/y of scandium oxide, or approximately 20% of the current global market. The Government of Quebec is contributing around $650,000 to the project through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The new plant will have the ability to add further modules in line with market demand, Rio says.

RTFT developed a process it has proven at pilot scale to extract high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining at its ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec.

Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are used as a power source for data centres and hospitals, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries, according to Rio.

Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium Managing Director, Stéphane Leblanc, said: “We are proud to offer North America’s first reliable supply of scandium oxide using an innovative and sustainable process, with the construction of this new plant. Rio Tinto has been engaged in the exploration and production of rare earths and critical minerals globally for a number of years, to meet the demand in new and emerging technologies. With the support of Rio Tinto’s aluminium business, we are uniquely positioned to deliver aluminium-scandium master alloys and develop synergies with North America’s manufacturing supply chain.”

Quebec Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, said: “RTFT’s scandium oxide valorisation project is a concrete example of how we can extract value from our mining wastes. It demonstrates our ability to innovate and seize business opportunities in a growing market as we strive to ensure secure supplies of critical minerals. This business has the potential to become a major scandium supplier outside China.”

Both the high-quality scandium oxide and aluminium-scandium master alloy will be commercialised under the business brand name Element North 21.