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SCANDIUM

  • Scandium
  • Mines Producing Scandium

Scandium was discovered in 1879 when the minerals gadolinite and and euxenite was undergoing spectral analysis in Scandinavia. It is a silvery white, soft, metallic transition metal sometimes classified as a rare earth element (REE), as is the 15 lanthanides and yttrium. It becomes slightly pinkish or yellowish when exposed to air and is adversely effected by weathering, it dissolves slowly in most dilute acids.


In the 1970's Scandium's positive effect on aluminium alloys was first recognised and this has remained its main application ever since. Although low levels of scandium are not uncommon, economic mineable deposits averaging at least 200 grams a tonne are vary rare, as only four such resources are known to exist worldwide. The largest scandium only resource in the world is located at Nyngan in New South Wales. The Nyngan resource stands at 12 million tonnes grading at 261 parts per million of scandium as well as 1.5 million tonnes grading at 330 parts per million scandium. Scandium is the main ingredient in the manufacturing of aerospace components, lighting and in the new solid oxide fuel cell market.


Global usage of scandium is still quite small, about five tonnes a year and as there has been a lack of a reliable, stable and secure long term production of the product, major commercial applications have been severely constrained. Up until now its main use has been in the making of aerospace industry components that require strong lightweight aluminium/scandium alloys. This type of component has been used in Soviet missiles and MiG-29 and MiG 21 military aircraft.


Uses of scandium include the following:
1. Metal alloys – Such as that needed in aerospace technology. Scandium/aluminium alloys have the advantage of being able to be welded. This reduces friction and increases joint strengths while remaining lightweight
2. Crystals for optics and lasers
3. Fuel cell technology- Scandium doped silicates in fuel cells can operate at lower
temperatures and have a longer life than yttrium doped zirconium that is currently used in such applications
4. High performance sports equipment – Scandium/aluminium alloy sports equipment includes such items as baseball bats and bicycle frames. Scandium/titanium alloys have been used to make lacrosse sticks
5. Gun making – Gun revolvers and frames can be made with scandium alloys
6. Metal halide lamps – Scandium iodide together with sodium iodide produces a white light resembling sunlight


Only about two tonnes of scandium is produced annually, in the form of scandium oxide. The actual amount mined is only around 400 kilograms as the balance is taken from Russian stockpiles that were accumulated during the cold war years. In 2003 only three mines produced scandium, two in Russia and the other in China. In all cases the scandium produced came from being a by-product during the extraction of other elements. The Nyngan deposits in Australia is the single scandium only deposit at the present time.


The Australian scandium deposit 'Gilgai' is owned by Jervois Mining Limited, it has created world wide interest particularly its potential in supplying scandium for fuel cell development.
 

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