Scandium-reinforced aluminium alloys represent a new generation of high-performance alloys that display numerous advantages over high-strength aluminium alloys.
Scandium-reinforced alloys are much stronger than high-strength alloys, exhibit significant grain refinement, strengthen welds, and eliminate hot cracking in welds. These alloys also exhibit a good resistance to corrosion.
Their mechanical, microstructural, and corrosion characteristic therefore makes scandium-reinforced alloys a superior product for aerospace, automotive and process industries.
The development of scandium-reinforced aluminium alloys first flourished in the Soviet Union, where military demand was the main driving force. At the time of the Soviet Union break-up in the early 1990s, scandium alloys were on the verge of major application in the MIG 29 fighters because of their advantages over the low density and high-strength of Al-Mg, Al-Li and other aluminium alloys.
In the past few years, there has been a resurgence in the interest for scandium-reinforced alloys by European, Japanese and North America companies. The research and development arm of the European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, for example are producing an aluminium-scandium alloy for high-performance applications including in the robotics, automotive and aerospace industries.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity for scandium-reinforced alloys is the passenger vehicle market. Automotive manufacturers have already embraced aluminium as their preferred material with companies like Porsche, Audi, Ford and General Motors moving to all-aluminium frames and panels. In addition to reducing the weight of an average family car by up to 200 kilograms and SUV’s by up to 400 kilograms, aluminium alloys also makes the bodyshell of a car more than 50% stiffer, thereby offering valuable improvements in body strength and driveability.
Australian Mines sees this trend of car makers transitioning from steel to aluminium alloys continuing, with potential application of aluminium-scandium alloys in structural components including doors and chassis parts. This is due to the unique ability of aluminium-scandium alloys to be welded as easily as conventional steel and exhibiting superior strength characteristics.
This application would enable manufacturers to build lighter vehicles using smaller engines to generate the same power-to-weight performance, in turn, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions. The suitable aluminium alloy need only contain 0.2-0.4% scandium or about 1 kilogram of scandium per vehicle. In 2015 alone, over 68 million new passenger vehicles rolled off production lines around the world creating an enormous potential market for aluminium-scandium alloys.