There’s an unexpected benefit from the boom in battery metals mining — it’s going to boost production of scandium, an obscure element whose long-held promise to transform manufacturing of planes and cars has been stalled by a lack of supply.
The silver-white metal, found in higher concentrations in moon rocks than on Earth, can be added to aluminum to make alloys that are lighter, stronger and more malleable. These can dramatically reduce the weight of parts for aircraft, cars or ships and help deliver savings on fuel costs.
“It’s the single most potent strengthening element you can add to aluminum,” said John Carr, vice president for business development and scandium marketing at Clean TeQ Holdings Ltd., an Australian developer of a mine that’ll produce the metal alongside cobalt and nickel for the battery sector. “Why scandium is so interesting is that if you add very, very small amounts of it — it has amazing impacts.”
The big problem has been a lack of supply. This is being improved by the arrival of new mines that’ll yield scandium as part of the process of producing the cobalt and nickel needed for lithium-ion batteries.
Extracting all three materials from a single deposit, rather than focusing only on producing scandium, drastically improves the economics. “It more or less gets a free ride along with the cobalt and nickel,” said Carr. “The cost of production is significantly less.”
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