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Scandium Oxide: The Miracle Mineral

Scandium oxide (ScO) is a relatively scarce, high-value mineral that takes its form as a white powder. The rare earth oxide is the primary form of refined scandium that is produced as a result of mining and is predominately created as a result of the extraction of other elements in this process. Its principal use is in the production of aluminium alloys, with the minerals high melting point and lightweight characteristics perfect for creating superior and favourable qualities. However, what exactly does ScO offer to aluminium alloys, and what potential markets can it benefit?

Benefits of Using Sc in Al Alloys

Simply, an alloy is the combination of two or more metallic elements with the desire to produce better properties and or characteristics. ScO has been shown to introduce several superior qualities to aluminium that creates exciting opportunities for different markets; with strength, durability and weldability the significant benefits.

Strength and Weight

The addition of scandium oxide to aluminium has a significant influence on increasing the strength and rigidity of the alloy. It achieves this effect by controlling the metals grain size, specifically keeping it small whilst also relieving internal stress in the alloy’s microstructure. On top of this strengthening effect, it can elicit significant weight saving advantages, creating a much lighter and thinner alloy while also retaining strength.

Weldability and Durability

ScO also increases the weldability of the alloy by improving the weld strength. The mineral reduces the chance of hot cracking during the welding process, as well as evoking better fatigue behaviour. It also provides to the alloy a higher thermal capacity, as well as superior resistance to corrosion, which results in increased durability.

Ideal Markets for Scandium Oxide

Scandium’s global demand has unfortunately been constrained due to the scarcity of supply and high trade prices. This demand issue could be helped if a long-term, secure and cost-effective source for scandium was established.

This strain on scandium demand could soon have some relief however, with newfound scandium deposits located in Queensland, Australia. With interest flaring from several industries, coupled with these newly discovered sources, ScO could have significant opportunities to provide its advantageous properties to a global audience. Three major industries stand to benefit the most, and include:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace; and
  • Battery

Automotive

The market that possibly stands to reap the most benefit from ScO, specifically scandium-aluminium alloys, is the automotive industry. Weight is vital to the functionality of a vehicle, especially in the area of fuel consumption. With aluminium alloys used to construct car chassis and body panels, the addition of ScO will result in significant weight reduction which will provide phenomenal weight saving advantages such as reducing fuel usage.

Aerospace

The Aerospace industry has also expressed their interest in scandium-aluminium alloys due to the superior characteristics it showcases. One such characteristic is the alloy’s increased weldability, significantly reducing the production timeline for aerospace manufacturers. ScO’s ability to impart significant weight reduction in the alloy is also of interest to the industry, with experts airing their belief that a 15-20% decrease in overall weight is possible.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

The battery market is growing rapidly, and the electric vehicle revolution is driving a large percentage of that growth, making the discussion about the effect that ScO has on solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) an important one. The mineral showcases excellent electrical conductivity and heat stabilisation, enabling the SOFC to operate at a lower temperature, making it significantly safer. The mineral also elicits the largest volume current out of all SOFC types. With these effects grouped together, the wealth of advantages for this type of battery are substantial, especially within the context of the electric vehicle sector.

What Needs to Happen Now?

ScO presents exciting opportunities for several industries, with its primary use in aluminium alloys and chemical properties accountable for its increased interest. ScO’s current global supply is a low 15 tonnes per year, however, its demand is predicted to skyrocket to 1600-1800 tonnes per year for the automotive and aerospace industries. A critical goal to achieve now is the establishment of a long-term and stable supply of ScO, which is essential for interested industries to embrace the use of this miracle mineral.

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