Scandium is often associated with the rare earth elements and as such has always been of interest to Less Common Metals.
Having been discovered almost 150 years ago you would imagine that miners would have uncovered a large amount of this element by now, but in fact it is extracted from ores in only a few mines in Asia and Russia and as a by-product of the extraction of other elements like titanium, uranium and iron.
The total annual production of scandium is only 15 to 20 tonnes per year, which means that it has always commanded an unrealistically high price. However, demand is increasing thanks to new applications in light weight high strength aluminum alloys, fuel cells, lasers and micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). This has resulted in additional deposits being exploited in Canada and Australia with the potential to reduce the price with growing demand.
Airbus has developed a scandium-aluminium Scalmalloy which has allowed a 45% weight saving in a bulkhead partition for the Airbus 320. When applied to the entire cabin Airbus estimates that the new design approach could save up to 465,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. As recently as March 10th 2021, RioTinto has signed an agreement to provide scandium-aluminium alloys which will provide Boeing with an answer to the Airbus alloy.
LCM is a partner in a project to produce scandium compounds and scandium-aluminum alloys from EU metallurgical by-products. SCALE (scandium-aluminum Europe) is a four-year EU Horizon 2020 funded project which aims to develop and secure an EU scandium supply chain.
This is delivered through the development of hi-tech innovations, which will allow the extraction of scandium from European industrial residues. The equipment used will extract scandium sustainably from dilute mediums and convert them to pure oxides, metals and alloys at lower energy and material cost.
LCM’s part in this project is to demonstrate industrial scale production of scandium-aluminium alloys by a novel production route. Various methods have been developed and LCM has successfully produced Sc-Al alloy with Sc content of 3-10%.
For more information visit the project website here.