Could this be Scandium’s moment in the sun?
What makes Scandium unique? One attribute stands out – it exhibits a strength to weight ratio comparable to that of Titanium. And due to such weight-saving properties, Scandium is one of the most promising additions to Aluminium alloys that is likely to be commercialised in the aerospace sector.
In fact, following its discovery, one of the first applications for Scandium in which its these properties were fully exploited was in the Soviet Mikoyan Gurevich MIG 29 fighter jets!
The element itself was discovered in 1879 by Mr Lars Nilson at Uppsala, Sweden, and it is the 35th most abundant element in the periodic table. Despite its ubiquitous presence in nature and its big potential, it is maybe surprising that it has not yet found its optimum use.
The main obstacle for further development of the Scandium market is the element’s dispersion in the Earth’s Crust and the subsequent high costs related to its extraction.
With an annual production of approximately 10mt-12mt, Scandium is now used mainly in recently developed Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC), in the form of Scandia-stabilised Zirconia where it acts as a substitute for Yttria-stabilised Zirconia.
As mentioned above, the most exciting use that could transform this element from backwater to mainstream is in the aerospace sector where it can substantially reduce the weight of an aircraft if introduced more widely into areas such as fuselage.
This use has a name – Scalmalloy®, a Scandium-bearing alloy recently patented by AIRBUS, which contains between 0.7-1.4% of Scandium with other additions of common alloying elements, such as Magnesium and Zirconium.
By introducing as little as 0.2-0.4% of Scandium into Aluminium, you can control the grain structure of an alloy very efficiently. With the addition of Scandium, the alloy also becomes tremendously corrosion resistant, and can be readily welded.
The main producers of Scandium are currently China and Russia, where Scandium is extracted as a by-product of Uranium mining.
However, the most promising source is Alumina production, where Scandium can be found is in the Red Mud Waste from which it may be extracted at a later stage. Scandium can also be produced from Rare Earth deposits and Titanium & Zirconium concentrates.
Our company remains involved with the Scandium market with a dominant focus on pure Scandium metal with low Oxygen, as well as Scandium Oxide and Aluminium-Scandium alloys.
Relative atomic mass