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Scandium Has Yet to Go “Ballistic” — Will Recent Developments Change the Material’s Odds to Shine?

“This obscure metal is going to go ballistic in a few years,” John Kaiser of Kaiser Research told the Investing News Network a few years ago. The metal he was referring to is Scandium — a material that is “as strong as titanium, as light as aluminum, and as hard as ceramic.” It’s a material that has become one of the poster children of our nation’s critical mineral resource dependencies — though you are most likely to have heard of the element group it is assigned to: the Rare Earths. Like its 16 peers in the REE group, scandium itself is not necessarily rare, but it is “rarely concentrated in nature, making commercially viable deposits extremely scarce.”

Most frequently harnessed as a co-product in the refining process of other metals such as tin and nickel, processing has proven difficult.

Thus, in spite of breakthrough new applications for the material, especially in the context of the lightweighting revolution (readers may recall the Light Rider), Kaiser’s prediction has yet to materialize.

There are indications, however, that its time is about to come as the materials science revolution marches on.

A new piece for Investing News Network takes a closer look at the current scandium market and discusses current production, new market entrants, and scandium’s potential to shine in the future.

The piece, which draws from a recent Kaiser Research study citing “an enormous latent demand for scandium if it ever became available on a primary scalable basis,” highlights two recent market events in the scandium space that, according to Kaiser “have the potential to launch scandium demand growth over the next decade towards a 1,000 (tonne per annum) market worth $2 billion:”

“For one, Rio Tinto announced in early 2020 that it has developed a route to recovery for scandium at its Sorel-Tracy facility in Quebec, where it produces titanium slag from the Lac Tio iron-titanium deposit. [More information on this development here.]

Secondly, Scandium International Mining filed an application in late 2019 for a patent protecting a method for recovering scandium and other metals from the waste streams of copper oxide leaching operations. In mid-2020, the company announced that copper raffinate tests showed there is enough recoverable scandium using its patent-pending process to match the supply growth coming from Rio Tinto’s recovery of scandium from its titanium upgrading slag.”

Airbus has long recognized the importance of scandium, and developed the aluminum alloy “Scalmalloy” in partnership with APWORKS several years ago. Earlier this week, the company announced three new concepts for “the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft which could enter service by 2035” — and there’s a good chance that – in light of its properties and Airbus’s work in the field – scandium may have found its way into the concepts.

With lightweighting becoming increasingly important in aeronautics and the automobile industry, and breakthroughs as the ones referenced above, the odds for scandium to finally “go ballistic” may have just increased significantly.