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Rio invests C$737m in Canadian critical minerals

An image Rio Tinto Fer et Titane operations in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

The Rio Tinto Fer et Titane operations in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec

12th October 2022

By: Esmarie Iannucci

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia

     

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PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Diversified miner Rio Tinto has announced plans to invest up to C$737-million over the next eight years to decarbonise its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) operations in Sorel-Tracy, Québec, and to position the business as a centre of excellence for critical minerals processing.

The partnership with the government of Canada will support technological innovations that represent a first step towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from RTFT’s titanium dioxide, steel and metal powders business by up to 70%, the miner said.

It will also progress initiatives to diversify RTFT’s product portfolio, reinforcing Rio’s leadership as a North American supplier of critical minerals for key growth sectors such as electric vehicles, 3D printing and aerospace.

The government of Canada is investing up to C$222-million over the next eight years to support these initiatives through its Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), 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 decarbonising our operations to finding new ways to produce the materials needed for the transition. 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 US,” Rio CEO Jakob Stausholm said.

The partnership will support projects including the BlueSmelting project, which is an ilmenite smelting technology that could generate 95% less GHG emissions than RTFT’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 RTFT metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy to test and validate this technology developed by scientists from Rio’s Critical Minerals and Technology Centre. Construction of the demonstration plant, which will have a capacity to process up to 40 000 t/y of ilmenite ore, 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 RTFT’s overall GHG emissions, a decrease of approximately 670 000 t of carbon dioxide equivalent based on 2021 emissions or the equivalent to removing 145 000 cars from the road.

The partnership would also help to increase scandium production, with Rio saying that after becoming the first North American producer earlier this year, the company is planning to quadruple its production capacity to reach up to 12 t/y of scandium oxide a year, from the current nameplate capacity of 3 t/y.

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 C$30-million to C$35-million plant is expected to start producing scandium oxide in 2024.

Additionally, the partnership would also result in Rio adding titanium metal to the portfolio.

The miner will be 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 is setting up a pilot plant at the RTFT metallurgical complex to validate this low-cost process which requires no harmful chemicals and does not generate direct GHG 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 of this critical mineral for Canadian and US manufacturers.

“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,”Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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