Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp., an exploration company targeting the heavy rare earths, reports that review of existing data and additional work by K-Tech Inc. at their lab in Lakeland, Florida indicate that potentially economically significant amounts of scandium are being leached from the Round Top rhyolite.
Initial column leach tests were conducted by RDI Inc. in Denver, Colorado in 2013. These results led to TRER's adoption of the heap leaching model for extraction of rare earth from the Round Top ore. Since that time the Company has reviewed the raw data to evaluate the potential of the high value trace elements, notably scandium. Careful review of the 2013 solution analyses indicates that if the scandium present in these leach solutions were recovered it would produce a projected 5,400 kilograms of scandium oxide per year in the envisioned 20,000 tonnes per day operation at Round Top.
Additional leaching has been carried out in 8" columns installed at the K-Tech lab with the objective of producing a primary leach solution (PLS) for continuous ion exchange and continuous ion chromatography testing. Analysis of this PLS has also shown potential recovery of scandium at even greater levels than being reported today. The behavior of scandium in the continuous ion exchange (CIX) and continuous ion chromatography (CIC) process is similar enough to rare earth elements that its extraction from solution does not require additional procedures or equipment.
Dan Gorski, CEO, commented: Although the production of heavy rare earths is the primary objective at Round Top, the numerous other elements being recovered in leaching of this rock are proving to make a significant contribution to the potential revenue stream. To date, uranium, lithium, beryllium and now scandium show promise of being valuable by-products. Scandium in particular is significant because of its strategic nature, lack of a domestic supply and limited worldwide production."
According to Adamas Intelligence, scandium sells for approximately $2,000-$5,000 per kilogram, depending on quality and purity characteristics. Furthermore, Adamas estimates annual worldwide production and consumption at 5,000-15,000 kilograms. The USGS (United States Geological Service), reports that 100% of US consumption of scandium in 2014 was imported, primarily from China.
Scandium exhibits very good electrical conductivity and excellent heat stabilization qualities. The primary use for scandium today is in solid oxide fuel cells ("SOFCs"), where both of these attributes dramatically improve performance. Incorporation of scandium in SOFCs delivers higher power outputs and promotes the desired chemical reaction at a lower operating temperature, resulting in dramatically improved unit life cycles. Numerous other applications have been identified and are under development, most notably for strength and superior conductivity in high voltage power transmission lines. Relatively small scandium additions into aluminum alloys produce stronger, lighter, heat and corrosion resistant, aluminum products. The aircraft industry depends on advanced aluminum alloys, and would incorporate aluminum-scandium alloys if consistent scandium supply was available. The automotive sector is increasingly incorporating aluminum alloys into its products to achieve weight reductions and better fuel efficiency.