NioCorp Developments Ltd., Centennial, Colorado, has produced an aluminum-scandium (AlSc) master alloy using a metallurgical process that helps prove a commercial pathway to potential production of the master alloy.
The AlSc master alloy was produced at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center in Ames, Iowa, under the supervision of NioCorp engineers and employing an improved production methodology specified by Tactical Alloys, a firm with more than 20 years of experience with AlSc alloys. Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory recognized as a world leader in the research and development of rare earth and rare metal materials, such as scandium. NioCorp commercially purchased the scandium used to create the master alloy at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center.
AlSc master alloys are used to introduce scandium into final casting-type and wrought-type aluminum-based alloy melts. Even a small amount of scandium can provide multiple benefits to aluminum alloys, including grain refinement during casting and solidification; improved weldability for minimizing weld cracks and failures; and increased yield and tensile strength of the alloy, which in turn can reduce the mass (weight) of platforms such as aerospace systems, cars, trucks, and buses, thus increasing fuel economy and reducing air emissions.
The recent alloy production was the second AlSc master alloy production test run performed by NioCorp and researchers at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center.
“We wish to thank once again the outstanding team at the Ames Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy, and our friends at Tactical Alloys for their assistance to our team in completing this second test production of aluminum-scandium master alloy,” said NioCorp CEO and Executive Chair Mark A. Smith. “This production run has helped to further refine what we believe is the likely metallurgical approach we would employ in making aluminum-scandium alloy for commercial markets. We very much look forward to the possibilities presented by the establishment of a domestic U.S. production capacity for aluminum-scandium master alloys that can utilize scandium sourced and purified in the U.S.”
Current global production and consumption of scandium are estimated by the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) to be approximately 10-15 tonnes per year, most of which is believed to be produced in China.
NioCorp is currently developing its proposed Elk Creek Superalloy Materials Facility in southeast Nebraska, which is expected to produce approximately 95 tonnes of scandium trioxide annually once it is constructed and enters commercial operation, according to the company’s April 2019 Elk Creek Project Feasibility Study. When operational, it will establish the U.S. as a global leader in the production of the high-value rare earth element.
In October 2018, NioCorp officials signed a commercial sales agreement with Traxys North America LLC for up to 120 tonnes of scandium trioxide throughout the first 10 years of operation of NioCorp’s Elk Creek Project.