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Why scandium could be a huge opportunity | INN

Scandium is a critical metal that is as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum and as hard as ceramic.

Although it is more common than lead, mercury and all precious metals, there are no pure scandium producing mines. The rare earth element is often a by-product of the refining of other metals, including uranium. Pure scandium metal is rarely concentrated in higher levels alongside other metals, which makes commercially usable scandium deposits very rare.

In addition, even if scandium is found in elevated concentrations, processing can be difficult, resulting in very few stable sources of this critical metal. Unsurprisingly, scandium is rarely used in commercial applications.

However, this does not mean, as John Kaiser of Kaiser Research has pointed out several times in the past few years and more recently, that no research has been carried out into how scandium could be used in the future. “Hundreds of applications have (have) been submitted, many of them relating to alloys with aluminum,” he said in an interview with the Investing News Network. “This obscure metal is going to become ballistic in the next few years.”

Kaiser made that statement a few years ago, and scandium has yet to go ballistic. But he still has hope for the metal, and it might still have its day in the sun.

Below is an overview of the scandium market. Topics covered include current production, newcomers to space travel, and the potentially promising future of metal.

Current scandium production

The first known large-scale production of scandium was associated with Russian military programs. Details have been lost in history, but the Russians allegedly alloyed the metal with aluminum to make lightweight MIG fighter parts. Mining at these historic Russian production sites has ceased, but stocks of scandium oxide and scandium master alloy remain in Russia. Rumor has it that these stocks are dwindling, but they are still available in the market.

Today, most of the scandium is extracted as a by-product in the processing of other ores such as uranium or rare earths or extracted from previously processed overburden. As a result, the supply of scandium may be affected by the supply and demand dynamics of the metals with which it is made. That can make the metal’s already difficult market dynamics even more difficult to understand.

According to the US Geological Survey, scandium-producing countries include China, where it is a by-product of iron ore, rare earths, titanium, and zircon; and in the Philippines, where it is a by-product of nickel. Scandium is also produced as a by-product of uranium in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

Further U.S. production could also be on the horizon following a legislative push encouraging the Department of Defense to look into potential uses for the metal. Environmental and building permits have been granted for NiCorp’s (TSX: NB, OTCQX: NIOBF) Polymetallic Elk Creek Project, which has projected reserves of an estimated 36 million tonnes of 65.7 ppm scandium.

Scandium resources have been identified in mineral-rich regions around the world, particularly Australia where a number of young mining companies are working to develop scandium deposits in New South Wales. These include Scandium International Mining (TSX: SCY), which controls the Nyngan project; Clean TeQ Holdings (ASX: CLQ, OTCQX: CTEQF), which holds the Sunrise Project; and Platina Resources (ASX: PGM, OTC Pink: PTNUF) who are working on the Owendale project.

Scandium Price and Trade

According to the US Geological Survey, the global scandium market is “small compared to most other metals”. This is best illustrated by the global production and consumption of the metal, which is estimated at only 15 to 20 tons per year.

The US Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission have no specific data on trade in the metal. Additionally, there is no formal buy / sell market today – Scandium is not traded on an exchange and there are no terminal or futures markets.

Instead, the metal is traded between private parties, mostly at undisclosed prices and in undisclosed quantities. Hence, understanding the exact volume and cost of scandium is difficult, and independent estimates are more relevant.

Production estimates are based on the level of dealer activity and interest and knowledge that some dealers are trading the critical metal from very small operations.

The estimates also include consumers who are believed to be sourcing their own scandium through small, controlled recovery operations, but do not take into account the amounts of metal in the master alloy that are currently being sold from Russian stocks.

The scandium opportunity

Analysts expect the global scandium market to grow at an average annual growth rate of over 11 percent between 2020 and 2025 in the demand for aluminum-scandium alloys, “noted ReportLinker.

Despite the lack of known, stable supplies, scientists and engineers have worked hard to develop new products that contain the metal. The potential of scandium in high-tech applications is well documented. The highlights of the properties of the metal include:

  • It can be used in making stronger, corrosion-resistant, heat-resistant, and weldable aluminum alloys for light aircraft and automobiles.
  • Its excellent electrical properties and heat resistance are valuable for solid oxide fuel cells.
  • It has unique optical properties for powerful lamps.

A recent Kaiser Research report on scandium describes the wide variety of end uses for scandium now and in the future, and the potential supply to meet that demand.

Potential supply and demand for scandium oxide.

Imperial research

As Kaiser explains, “There is tremendous latent demand for scandium, should it ever become available on a primary, scalable basis.” Image courtesy of Kaiser Research.

In other words, the only barrier to accessing demand for a whole new family of high performance aluminum materials and power / lighting products is the lack of commercially viable large-scale production of scandium. Interestingly, Kaiser’s work highlights two major events in the scandium market that “could have the potential to start scandium demand growing toward a $ 1,000 (tons per year) market worth $ 2 billion” over the next decade .

For one, Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO, ASX: RIO, LSE: RIO) announced in early 2020 that it had developed a route to recover scandium at its Sorel-Tracy facility in Quebec, where it is producing titanium slag from Lac Tio. produces iron-titanium deposit. In June 2021, Rio Tinto announced that it had started commercial operations of its new scandium oxide manufacturing facility.

“The development of Rio Tinto marks a turning point for the scandium sector,” said Kaiser, who believes increasing scandium production could help boost the sector.

Second, in late 2019, Scandium International Mining filed a patent application to protect a process for recovering scandium and other metals from waste streams from copper oxide leaching operations. In mid-2020, the company announced that copper refining tests had shown that its patent-pending process had enough recoverable scandium to meet supply growth from Rio Tinto’s extraction of scandium from its titanium refining slag.

“The conditions are finally right for Scandium to become the ideal lightweight solution for aluminum,” Kaiser said in his press release.

This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2014.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, have no direct interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to conduct their own due diligence.

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