NioCorp Developments Ltd. announced the successful production of an aluminum-scandium (AlSc) master alloy using a metallurgical process that helps to prove out a commercial pathway to potential production of the master alloy.
The AlSc master alloy was produced at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center, located in Ames, IA, under the supervision of NioCorp engineers and employing an improved production methodology specified by Tactical Alloys, a firm with more than 20 years of experience in the AlSc alloy space. Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory recognized as a world leader in the research and development of rare earth and rare metal materials, such as scandium. NioCorp commercially purchased the scandium used to create the master alloy at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center.
AlSc master alloys are used to introduce scandium into final casting-type and wrought-type aluminum-based alloy melts. Even a small amount of scandium can provide multiple benefits to aluminum alloys, including grain refinement during casting and solidification; improved weldability for minimizing weld cracks and failures; and increased yield and tensile strength of the alloy, which in turn can reduce the mass (weight) of platforms such as aerospace systems, cars, trucks and buses, thus increasing fuel economy and reducing air emissions.
The recent alloy production was the second such AlSc master alloy production test run performed by NioCorp and researchers at Ames Laboratory’s Materials Preparation Center. NioCorp is currently developing its proposed Elk Creek Superalloy Materials Facility in southeast Nebraska, which is expected to produce approximately 95 t/a (105 stpy) of scandium trioxide once it is constructed and enters commercial operation, according to the company’s April 2019 Elk Creek Project Feasibility Study. Current global production and consumption of scandium are estimated by the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) to be approximately 10-15 t/a (11-16.5 stpy), most of which is believed to be produced in China.
When NioCorp’s Elk Creek Mine and processing facility are operational, it will establish the U.S. as a global leader in the production of the high-value rare earth element.
“We wish to thank once again the outstanding team at the Ames Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy, and our friends at Tactical Alloys for their assistance to our team in completing this second test production of Aluminum-Scandium master alloy,” said Mark A. Smith, CEO and Executive Chair of NioCorp. “This production run has helped to further refine what we believe is the likely metallurgical approach we would employ in making Aluminum-Scandium alloy for commercial markets. We very much look forward to the possibilities presented by the establishment of a domestic U.S. production capacity for Aluminum-Scandium master alloys that can utilize scandium sourced and purified in the United States.”
Photo: Aluminum-scandium master alloy produced at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory by Ames researchers and NiCorp Engineers.