Scandium has until now only been a niche metal with demand in high end products such as the aerospace industry and sports equipment (bicycle frames, fishing rods, golf iron shafts, tennis rackets and baseball bats). It has great potential as an alloy because it has almost as low a density as aluminum with a much higher melting point. Scandium, when added to aluminum, creates a strong lightweight alloy with excellent resistance to corrosion and good weldability. Aluminum-scandium alloy can be 10-100% stronger than conventional aluminum alloys and has been used in Russian MIG fighter planes. A new analysis shows that scandium-contained aluminum alloys can save airline operators approximately $9 million in net present value for a single B737 -sized jetliner, assuming scandium oxide pricing at $3,500/kg. NioCorp Developments Ltd. (TSX: NB | OTCQX: NIOBF) is developing North America’s only niobium, scandium, titanium project. Located near Elk Creek, Nebraska, the Elk Creek Project is the highest grade niobium project in North America, as well as the largest prospective producer of scandium in the world. NioCorp is sitting on 250,000 tons of niobium pentoxide, 2,300 tons of scandium, and 891,000 tons of titanium dioxide, and is heading towards being the only producer of its kind in the USA. In a joint project with IBC Advanced Alloys, NioCorp announced in October the successful production of an aluminum-scandium master alloy. NioCorp and IBC intend to utilize the master alloy from this program to further the companies’ ongoing efforts to develop specialty scandium containing alloys and/or prototype products for potential commercial use. This agreement is to investigate and develop applications for scandium-containing materials for a range of downstream markets.
Mark A. Smith, CEO and Executive Chair of NioCorp and Chairman of the Board of IBC, said: “This is almost certainly the first aluminum-scandium master alloy made in the United States in some years. We look forward to the possibilities presented by the establishment of a domestic U.S. production capacity for aluminum-scandium master alloys that utilize scandium mined and purified in the U.S.”
NioCorp is developing the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Mine and processing facility in southeast Nebraska, which is expected to produce more than 100 tonnes per year of scandium oxide when fully operational. As shown below the project has an impressive after-tax NPV8% of $1.7 billion, with after-tax IRR of 21.7%.