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Scandium is a chemical element (Sc, atomic number 21) present in most of the deposits of rare earth and uranium compounds, but it is extracted from those ores in very low volumes. NioCorp expects to produces as much as 97 metric tons/year of scandium alloy, and “to establish a secure and reliable supply chain …'

New Superalloy R&D Project for IBC

June 21, 2016
Initiative to "investigate, develop" scandium-containing alloys for multiple downstream markets NioCorp developing Nebraska site Potential as aluminum alloy "A whole new class of advanced products" from superalloys

IBC Advanced Alloys Corp. is making a new venture into superallloys processing via a joint development agreement with NioCorp Developments Ltd. to "investigate and develop applications for scandium-containing alloys for multiple downstream markets."

NioCorp is a Colorado company now developing a site near Elk Creek, NE, to recover niobium, scandium, and titanium: the project is said to be the only one of its kind in North America. All are high-strength, low-density materials (described as “transition metals”) with significant industrial potential, for example in aviation, automotive, precision manufacturing, defense, and electronics, among others. Most of these are market that IBC addresses with its current subsidiaries, beryllium-aluminum investment caster IBC Engineered Materials and IBC Copper Alloys.

Specifically, scandium has high potential value as an aluminum alloy. As noted by IBC, it can be used to increase strength and weldability of aluminum used in commercial aerospace products, thereby contributing to aircraft’s weight reduction, fuel consumption, and emissions. (IBC cited a source that estimates $1.0-$1.5 million of scandium oxide in a Boeing 737 Next-Generation can add $10-15 million of net present value in fuel savings.)

NioCorp expects to produces as much as 97 metric tons/year of scandium alloy. Mark A. Smith, CEO and executive chairman, said the firm "intends to establish a secure and reliable supply chain for scandium, and our partnership with IBC will leverage our ability to simultaneously accelerate applications development and market uptake of our scandium production."

Neither IBC nor NioCorp detailed the terms of their joint-development agreement, but their released stated the project "signals the companies' intent to collaborate in ensuring a reliable and secure U.S. supply of scandium and catalyzing greater scandium use across a variety of industries."

Global production of scandium is quite limited: The U.S. Geological Survey estimated only 10-15 metric tons per year of scandium are produced worldwide, in spite of the potential value to aerospace and solid-oxide fuel cell markets, which IBC offered may amount to "several hundred metric tons per year."

IBC Engineered Materials president Chris Huskamp will lead the joint development effort for IBC; He is a former Boeing Associate technical fellow who is named as co-inventor of two pending patents regarding scandium-bearing aluminum alloys.

Scott Honan, vice president of Business Development of NioCorp and President of Elk Creek Resources Corporation, will manage the initiative for NioCorp. 

In addition to beryllium-aluminum investment castings, IBC manufactures and distributes copper alloys as castings and forgings, including beryllium copper, chrome copper, and aluminum bronze in plate, block, bar, rings. It also develops specialty copper-alloy forgings for plastic mold tooling and resistance welding. In 2014, IBC formed a partnership with Baoshida Swissmetal Ltd. to develop copper and copper-alloy products for electronics, aerospace, military, oil-and-gas exploration, automotive, and consumer goods markets.

"Advanced alloys are continuing to revolutionize many industries, and IBC's strategic goal is to catalyze new applications for scandium-containing alloys so that we can expand our markets beyond those we are now able to address with advanced beryllium and copper alloys," stated Major General David Heinz (USMC, ret.), CEO of IBC.

He continued: "We intend to grow a whole new class of advanced products made here in the U.S from our superalloys. Not only will IBC products help meet a growing market demand for advanced alloys, but they also will help address some of the world's greatest problems, such as climate change and reliance on fossil fuels."