Rio Tinto Partners With Canada to Decarbonize Plant, Boost Critical Minerals Processing
MONTREAL — Rio Tinto is partnering with the Canadian government to invest up to $537 million over the next eight years to decarbonize its operations in Sorel-Tracy, Québec, and to position the business as a center of excellence for critical minerals processing.
According to a press release from the company, the partnership will support technological innovations that represent a first step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Rio Tinto’s titanium dioxide, steel and metal powders business by up to 70%.
It will also advance initiatives to diversify Rio Tinto’s product portfolio, reinforcing the company’s status as a leading North American supplier of critical minerals for key growth sectors such as electric vehicles, 3D printing and aerospace.
The Canadian government is investing $162 million (all figures are in US dollars) over the next eight years to support these initiatives through its Strategic Innovation Fund, which supports large-scale, transformative, and collaborative projects that will help position Canada to prosper in the global knowledge-based economy.
“Rio Tinto is committed to being part of a net-zero future, from decarbonizing our operations to finding new ways to produce the materials needed for the transition,” said Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm in a written statement.
“We are excited to collaborate with the Government of Canada to position RTFT for the future and strengthen the critical minerals and metals value chains in Canada and the United States,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed the partnership in a statement saying, “Good middle-class jobs, clean air, and made-in-Canada tech: this is our vision for a strong economy and a strong future.
“Today’s announcement is about delivering on that vision and positioning Canada as a leader in critical minerals — a key part of things like electric vehicles. Together, we will continue to innovate, create good jobs, and keep our air clean,” Trudeau said.
The partnership will support projects including:
The BlueSmelting project is an ilmenite smelting technology that could generate 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than Rio Tinto’s current reduction process, enabling the production of high-grade titanium dioxide feedstock, steel and metal powders with a drastically reduced carbon footprint.
A demonstration plant is currently under construction at the Rio Tinto metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy to test and validate this technology developed by scientists from Rio Tinto’s Critical Minerals and Technology Center. Construction of the demonstration plant, which will have a capacity to process up to 40,000 tons of ilmenite ore per annum, is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023.
If fully implemented, the BlueSmelting project has the potential to deliver a reduction of up to 70% in Rio Tinto’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease of approximately 670,000 tCO2e based on 2021 emissions or the equivalent to removing 145,000 cars from the road.
Increasing Scandium Production
After becoming the first North American producer of scandium, a critical mineral used in solid oxide fuel cells and aluminum alloys, earlier this year, Rio Tinto is planning to quadruple its production capacity to reach up to 12 tons of scandium oxide per year, from the current nameplate capacity of three tons.
New modules will be added to the existing plant, which uses an innovative process to extract high purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining. The $22-26 million project is expected to start producing scandium oxide in 2024.
Adding Titanium Metal to the Portfolio
Rio Tinto is partnering with other titanium industry participants to advance the development of a new process for extracting and refining titanium metal, a high-performance material used in the medical, aerospace, and automotive industries.
Rio Tinto is setting up a pilot plant at the Rio Tinto metallurgical complex to validate this low-cost process which requires no harmful chemicals and does not generate direct greenhouse gas emissions. The plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
This project has the potential to greatly increase the production of raw titanium metal in North America, while strengthening the security of supply for this critical mineral for Canadian and U.S. manufacturers.