Ottawa contributes $222 million to Rio Tinto plan to decarbonize, boost critical mineral output in Quebec
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Oct 14, 2022
Mehanaz Yakub

The $737-million partnership will dramatically cut emissions by introducing a new, low-carbon smelting technology at the Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium complex in southwestern Quebec

A new smelting process at Rio Tinto’s Iron and Titanium complex will lower its operations’ greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent — equal to taking 145,000 internal combustion cars off the road. Photo: Rio Tinto

The $737-million partnership will dramatically cut emissions by introducing new, low-carbon smelting technologies at the Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium complex in southwestern Quebec

Global mining giant Rio Tinto is partnering with the Canadian federal government to invest up to $737 million over the next eight years to boost its production of critical minerals, while reducing the carbon emissions at its Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium (RTIT) complex in Sorel-Tracy, Que.

Rio Tinto says this partnership supports technological innovations that will help lower its operations’ greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent — equivalent to taking 145,000 internal combustion cars off the road.

The mining company also wants to diversify RTIT’S production profile to advance initiatives that will support the growth of the electric vehicle and battery manufacturing industry.

Critical minerals leadership

“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 Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto’s chief executive in a press release. “We are excited to collaborate with the Government of Canada to position [RTIT] for the future and strengthen the critical minerals and metals value chains in Canada and the United States.”

The federal government’s contribution, through the Strategic Innovation Fund, will amount to $222 million over eight years.

“Good middle-class jobs, clean air, and made-in-Canada tech: this is our vision for a strong economy and a strong future,” said prime minister Justin Trudeau in the same release. “[This] announcement is about delivering on that vision and positioning Canada as a leader in critical minerals — a key part of things like electric vehicles.”

The total investments will create around 150 more jobs at the complex.

Demonstration plant underway

Rio Tinto plans to launch a BlueSmelting project at RTIT, which will use ilmenite smelting technology to produce high-grade titanium dioxide feedstock, steel, and metal powders with a smaller carbon footprint. According to Rio Tinto, this procedure has the potential to release 95 per cent fewer emissions than the existing reduction process.

A demonstration plant at the RTIT facility is currently being built to test and validate this technology, which will have the capacity to process up to 40,000 tonnes of ilmenite ore per year. The plant is expected to be completed by the first half of 2023.

By the end of next year, Rio Tinto says it will also open a new pilot plant to validate a low-cost process of extracting and refining titanium — a material used in the aerospace and automotive industries. This method of producing titanium will not generate any emissions or require using any harmful chemicals.

Other projects set to take place at the RTIT complex include quadrupling the production of scandium, a mineral used in solid oxide fuel cells and aluminum alloys that create lightweight, safer and stronger electric vehicles and the construction of another demonstration plant to produce spodumene concentrate, which is a mineral used to manufacture batteries used in EVs.

“Rio Tinto is exploring new, sustainable ways to extract battery materials for the energy transition. We are seeing strong interest in the market for a North American supply of spodumene concentrate to support the production of lithium batteries,” said RTIT’s managing director Stéphane Leblanc in a press statement about the construction of the spodumene plant.

The RTIT complex is also already home to Rio Tinto’s research and development facility, the Critical Mineral and Technology Centre.

Accelerating Canada’s EV supply chain

Over the last year, Canada has been ramping up the build-out of a robust EV battery ecosystem, with significant investments in projects in battery and cathode manufacturing plants along with a $3.8-billion commitment towards a critical minerals strategy in the 2022 federal budget.

With this latest announcement, Canada is now closer to advancing its efforts of becoming a global leader in the “responsible, inclusive, and sustainable production of critical minerals, from mines to manufacturing,” says the federal government.

“Supporting the growth of Canada’s critical minerals supply chain will ensure that our country remains a global leader in this strategic sector,” says François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry.

“Our government is committed to the sustainable development of critical minerals resources, creating good jobs, and building strong global supply chains while strengthening trade relationships with Canada’s closest allies.”

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