Scandium As an Additive to Aluminum Alloys

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The most significant market opportunity for the rare metal scandium is as an additive to aluminum alloys. When added in small quantities, scandium produces stronger, corrosion resistant, more heat tolerant, and weldable aluminum products. Scandium can be used to improve the properties of standard cast and wrought aluminum alloys, but is best employed in alloys that contain very little copper or silicon.

Alloys containing between 1 and 5% scandium are currently used in some minor aerospace industry components, as well as sports equipment such as baseball bats, lacrosse sticks and tent poles. Moreover, adding scandium limits excessive grain growth in the heat-affected zone of welded aluminum components. It also enhances ductility and allows for thinner welds.

Global mining and metals company Rio Tinto is supplying its first commercial batch of aluminum-scandium alloy from its North American operations to Amaero, a leader in metal additive manufacturing. The companies will jointly develop and supply the specialized alloy, which is designed to be processed into powder for 3D printing, for high-temperature applications in the aerospace, defense and other sectors.

Rio Tinto will provide the alloy by combining responsibly produced low carbon aluminum from its hydro-powered Canadian smelters with high purity scandium oxide from its new plant in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. The plant is the first North American source of scandium for world markets and uses a patent-pending technology to recover the rare metal from industrial byproducts in a cost-effective, low environmental impact manner without the need for additional mining.