Rio Tinto enters scandium market with plant in Canada's Quebec

FILE PHOTO: A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia, November 19, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto said on Thursday it will become North America’s first producer of critical mineral scandium oxide with construction of a commercial-scale demonstration plant in the Canadian province of Quebec.

Rio said it would invest $6 million to build the first module in the plant at its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Que., with commercial output starting in the second quarter.

Scandium oxide is used in lasers and lighting for stadiums and for production of alloys for the aerospace and defence industries, among other applications.

Rio said it has developed a process 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, Que.

Mineral-rich Quebec is providing $650,000 to the project, part of wider efforts by the province to support development of strategic minerals.

Reporting by Jeff Lewis; Editing by Kirsten Donovan