AMES, Iowa - NioCorp Developments Ltd. has 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, Iowa, under the supervision of NioCorp engineers and employing an improved production methodology specified by Tactical Alloys, a firm with over 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 tonnes of Scandium Trioxide annually 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 tonnes per year, most of which is believed to be produced in China.
When NioCorp’s Elk Creek mine and processing facility are operational in Nebraska, it will establish the U.S. as a global leader in the production of the high-value rare earth element.
In October 2018, NioCorp signed a commercial sales agreement with Traxys North America LLC for up to 120 tonnes of scandium trioxide over the first 10 years of operation of NioCorp’s Elk Creek Project. Traxys is obligated to purchase 12 tonnes per year of scandium trioxide for the first 10 years of the Project’s production, subject to satisfaction of certain conditions. That annual amount represents approximately 10 percent of NioCorp’s planned annual production of scandium. Traxys can purchase more than 12 tonnes per year from NioCorp, and the agreement can be extended beyond the 10-year term, by mutual agreement. The contract presupposes the company securing project financing, obtaining all necessary approvals, and constructing a mine and processing facility at Elk Creek.