Imperial Mining Group is developing a potential new and reliable source of scandium that could disrupt current markets and expand the industrial uptake of this remarkable metal
Scandium is classed as a transition metal and rare earth element (REE) and readily alloys with aluminium to produce an alloy that is as strong as steel and titanium but weighs around one-third of steel and is about 40% lighter than titanium and costs ten times less to produce.
Scandium-aluminium alloys are also highly resistant to corrosion and offer enhanced weldability. The welding process can often be challenging for other high-performance aluminium alloys and usually requires costly repair to damaged alloy structures via heat treatment.
These properties, which can be realised with the addition of just 0.1% to 0.45% scandium, make scandium-aluminium alloys ideal for vital components in applications across the automotive, aerospace, defence, and many other industries.
For example, airplanes made from scandium-aluminium alloys are stronger, lighter, and more fuel-efficient, and they are critical to the light-weighting of components for car and truck chassis, and military armour.
They are also used in the motor housings and chassis components for electric vehicles to extend the battery range, and more recently, as a ceramic electrolyte in solid oxide fuel cells, where they lower operating temperatures and prolong the life of the cell.
Most scandium is produced today as a by-product of other mineral refining processes and comes in the form of an oxide, chloride, iodide, fluoride, and acetate. However, it is supplied mainly in the form of scandium oxide from China, with minor amounts from Russia, Ukraine, and the Philippines.
Scandium prices, which, according to Scandium Investing News, can be as high as US$4,600 per kilogram for scandium oxide, have made its use as an aluminium alloying agent cost-prohibitive, and the constraints in supply have severely hampered its broader industrial adoption.
However, this could change as more reliable sources of scandium come online.
Imperial Mining (TSXV: IPG), a leading Canadian exploration and development company headquartered in Montreal, is at the vanguard of efforts to develop a sustainable source of scandium from its Crater Lake Scandium-REE property, located east of Schefferville in northeastern Quebec and approximately 95 km from the end of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
“The single biggest impediment to the broader uptake of scandium has been a reliable and stable supply of scandium for manufacturers,” says Peter Cashin, founder, president, and CEO of Imperial. “Our discussions with industry have shown just how extensive the market for scandium could be once a long-term, sustainable supply becomes available.”
Crater Lake, Cashin added, contains scandium, niobium, and tantalum at potentially significant and economically viable concentrations that could provide a sustainable source of high-purity, low-cost scandium.
The property straddles a 6-km diameter intrusive complex hosting deposits of high-grade scandium mineralization. Surface samples have returned grades of over 1,600 grams scandium per tonne, with drill core samples returning over 113.9 meters grading 310 grams scandium.
“The deposit has been modelled to extend to at least a kilometre from surface and has the potential to produce around 250,000 tonnes per year of high-purity, low-cost scandium oxide ore for a mine life of well over 20 years. It also has attractive preliminary financial returns on using a US$1,250 per kilogram scandium oxide price,” says Cashin.
Crater Lake also benefits from being situated close to three of the world’s top primary aluminium producers — Alcoa [NYSE: AA], Rio Tinto [NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO], and Aluminerie Alouette, who collectively produce approximately 90% of Canadian and 60% of North American aluminium production — providing them with a potential local source of scandium for the production of these critical alloys.
“The producers will be able to feed scandium oxide directly into their conventional metal processes to create the aluminium alloys without any major changes to equipment or flowsheets,” says Phil Chataigneau, the company’s strategic marketing analyst. “So, for them, it’s a value-add product that doesn’t cost them any more to create the alloys.”
Imperial’s Crater Lake deposit could provide the company with a significant advantage over its competition and position it as a global leader in the supply of high-grade scandium and help to establish a stable and growing market for this critical commodity.
— The preceding Joint-Venture Article is PROMOTED CONTENT sponsored by IMPERIAL MINING and produced in cooperation with The Northern Miner. Visit www.imperialmgp.com for more information.