Scrambling for scandium

In all the flow of news and comment about REE and rare or specialty metals, scandium often does not get much of a look-in (to use a popular Australian term). But its uses are widespread: aluminium alloy frames for things like bicycles and aircraft, hand-guns, lasers and high-intensity lamps, and solid fuel oxide cells.

Most of the scandium now available comes from stockpiles built by the former Soviet Union. According to a recent presentation by Australian scandium hopeful Metallica Minerals (ASX:MLM) there is at present no global mining or primary scandium supply, and current scandium use is severely restricted by its scarcity and lack of reliable supply. The company sees the opportunity to create a whole new strategic metal market.

So, clearly, do others.

As we reported on REE World Report this week, in China the Zhejiang Provincial First Geological Team has made what it calls a “mammoth” scandium deposit. It says that “the rare earth deposit contains 17 types of metallic elements” but does not specify whether these include REE apart from scandium.

This week we saw EMC Metals Corp (TSX:EMC) taking an option to earn 100 per cent of two projects located in southern Norway that have the potential for a scandium discovery along with yttrium – and also tantalum, beryllium, niobium, zirconium, titanium, lithium, nickel and tin. EMC is obviously building itself as a scandium player and its more advanced project is as joint venture partner with Australian explorer Jervois Mining (ASX:JRV). Their Nyngan, New South Wales, project has a resource estimate of 12 million tonnes grading at 261 parts per million scandium. Jervois shares are presently trading at A0.4c.

Then we have Metallica Minerals which has what it calls the “Tri-Metal” Nornico project in northern Queensland, Australia, containing nickel-cobalt and scandium. The company’s largest shareholder, with a 18.9 per cent stake, is a subsidiary of China’s Jilin HOROC Nonferrous Metal Group. Production is targeted for 2013. Unlike at other projects, where scandium has to stand on its own legs as an economic proposition, the scandium at Nornico can be processed in the plant designed to extract the nickel and cobalt.

The company describes the scandium component as high grade. The resource is in two separate deposits, named Lucknow and Kokomo with, respectively, a contained 1580 tonnes and 1500 tonnes. Metallica believes this has the potential to make the company a major world supplier of scandium oxide and scandium products. It assumes a scandium oxide price of $US1500 a kilogram and a 85 per cent recovery rate to come up with a potential revenue of $A4.5 billion.

Incidentally, Metallica owns 16.4 per cent of Orion Metals (ASX:ORM) which has the Killi Killi HREE project in Australia’s Northern Territory.