Rio Tinto to decarbonize PM mine

Rio Tinto is partnering with the Canadian government to invest up to C$737 million (US$537 million) over the next eight years to decarbonize its mine in Sorel-Tracy, Québec.

Plans are to develop ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) titanium dioxide, steel and metal powders business by up to 70%. The company also wants to diversify its product portfolio.

Projects in focus include the company’s BlueSmelting ilmenite smelting technology that could generate 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than the current reduction process, enabling the production of high-grade titanium dioxide feedstock, steel and metal powders with a reduced carbon footprint.

According to the company, a demonstration plant is currently under construction at Sorel-Tracy to test and validate the technology, developed by scientists from Rio Tinto’s critical minerals and technology center. Construction of the demonstration plant, with a capacity to process up to 40,000 tonnes of ilmenite ore per annum, could 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 greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease of approximately 670,000 tCO2e [tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent] based on 2021 emissions or the equivalent to removing 145,000 cars from the road,” a press release said.

Rio Tinto is also planning to quadruple its production capacity to reach up to 12 tonnes of scandium oxide per year, by using an process to extract scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production without additional mining. The C$30-35 million (US$22-26 million) project could start producing scandium oxide in 2024, the company said.

A final project involves the development of a new process for extracting and refining titanium metal. Rio Tinto is reportedly setting up a pilot plant at its metallurgical complex to validate this low-cost process which, it says, requires no harmful chemicals and does not generate direct greenhouse gas emissions. The plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

“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 CEO Jakob Stausholm.