If you’re in the business of manufacturing products from aluminium, something very exciting is happening. It involves a little known and largely ignored metal called scandium, a metal that just so happens to be buried right here in Australia.
Tiny amounts of scandium have been found to dramatically improve the strength of aluminium and drastically reduce its weight. Such a discovery obviously has massive potential across a huge range of aluminium-based products.
Everything from bike frames and dinghies to tennis racquets and MiG fighter jets is made from aluminium. Add in foil, ladders, golf clubs, sinks, taps, screen doors, window frames, pots, pans, gates, fencing, nails, staples, computer parts and car rims, and you’ve got a huge list of popular products already. Now imagine if all those products were made right here from scandium-enhanced aluminium. There’s an internationally marketable edge right there. And it is possible.
Australia’s mine-able reserves of scandium are among the largest in the world. And while the current price of scandium is a little scandalous – up to 10 times the price of silver – a reliable, ongoing supply by a few eager local miners would soon change that.
If you’ve never heard of scandium, you’re not alone. It’s one of the 17 rarest elements and metallurgists have been aware of it since 1879. Yet its potential has been largely ignored, or unknown, until very recently.
The race to create a commercially viable aluminium and scandium alloy is now on and Australian manufacturers stand to be the biggest beneficiaries. While there is still much work to be done to build a viable supply chain, the early signs are good. As long as mining companies come onboard with an ongoing scandium supply that stabilises its price at a competitive level. And as long as a sufficient number of manufacturers aim high with high strength, high performance aluminium, the future looks bright for Australian industry.