IBC Advanced Alloys and NioCorp Developments Ltd have announced the successful manufacture of several aluminium-scandium alloy ingots. These test pours occurred at IBC’s Wilmington, Massachusetts Engineered Materials facility using scandium purchased commercially by NioCorp.
The ingots, representing a range of scandium content, will now undergo chemical analysis and other metallurgical testing to confirm the microstructure and performance of the alloys. This testing is the basis for commercializing aluminium-scandium alloys.
“I am very pleased with the successful execution by Chris Huskamp and his team of this initial production campaign, and we look forward to reviewing the results of follow-on testing to confirm material specifications,” said Major General Duncan (David) Heinz (USMC, ret.), IBC’s President and CEO. “This is a significant milestone in our joint development effort with NioCorp to seed the market in order to unlock the enormous value of scandium in a wide range of high-performance applications across multiple markets.”
“This is an exciting launch of what could be a new phase of commercial operations for both IBC and for NioCorp,” said Mark A. Smith, who serves as Chair of IBC’s Board and is Executive Chair and CEO of NioCorp. “Developing high-performance alloys and processes that incorporate metals such as scandium requires significant expertise and know-how. The Board and I look forward to Chris’ team continuing to advance this effort toward a potential launch of new commercial operations.”
Alloys that incorporate scandium have been produced for more than 50 years for a wide variety of applications in the defense and civilian sectors. When combined with aluminum and other metals, for example, scandium helps to make a very strong and lightweight alloy material that can deliver significant performance enhancements, weight savings, fuel efficiency, and air emissions reductions in transportation systems. The former Soviet Union reportedly used scandium-bearing alloys in high-performance jet fighters and in other military aerospace systems.
However, despite the many well-understood benefits of scandium, widespread use of the metal has been limited by severely constrained global supply chains. No single dedicated mine in the world today currently produces scandium, and only 10-15 t of scandium oxide material is estimated to be produced globally. OnG Commodities has estimated latent demand for scandium at several hundred tonnes per year in the aerospace sector alone.1
Huskamp, who leads IBC’s team of metallurgists and alloy production specialists, is President of IBC’s Engineered Materials Division, which currently manufactures high-performance beryllium-aluminum alloy parts for a number of systems in both the defense and civilian sectors. He is a former Boeing Associate Technical Fellow in advanced metallic processes, and is credited as a named co-inventor of two patents regarding scandium-bearing aluminium alloys.
NioCorp is currently developing the Elk Creek Superalloy Materials Project, an advanced materials processing facility planned for southeast Nebraska that expects to produce just over 100 t/y of scandium trioxide, as well as niobium and titanium products. Such large-scale production of scandium in Nebraska would establish the USA as a global superpower of scandium.