Scandium race: two potential Australian projects on fast track
Back in September I posted an interview with George Putnam of Scandium International Mining Corp (TSX:SCY) on how the Australian state of New South Wales was now home to three scandium projects. I headlined the post “Australia: the emerging scandium powerhouse”.
Since then Scandium International has pushed ahead with its Nyngan, NSW, project and investors have given it the thumbs up, the stock rising 52.63% in 2015 – that’s pretty impressive considering how most rare earth stocks did over the same period.
And impressive, too, compared to the stock performance of two Australian companies looking for scandium in the same neighbourhood as SCY. Platina Resources (ASX:PGM) has seen its shares decline from A$0.092 in April to $0.035 in Friday afternoon trading. It has been hit by a decision from Chinalco Resources that the Chinese company would not proceed with negotiations “in the current market conditions”.
The third company, Clean TeQ Holdings (ASX:CLQ) has also lost ground in terms of the share price, from A$0.29 in May to A$0.165 in Friday afternoon trading – but this company is making some progress, last month announcing an alliance with Universal Alloy Corp, based in Canton, Georgia, a global supplier of extruded alloy aerospace components. Clean TeQ has also teamed up with an Australian university: the Institute for Frontier Materials at Deakin University, located at Geelong, Victoria, focuses on innovation and development in materials science and engineering. The thrust will be to develop the next generation of lightweight solutions for commercial aircraft.
In other words, the target is to use scandium in aluminium alloys to make parts lighter and stronger. (Deakin is also reported to be keen to test the potential of scandium alloys with 3D printing.)
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But Clean TeQ has already developed its own technology, what it calls the resin-in-pulp (RIP) process. It uses, as the company explains, “a combination of continuous ion exchange sorption and desorption processes, [that] was proven to extract and concentrate nickel and cobalt directly from acidic lateritic pulps at a much lower cost than conventional routes”.
The involvement of laterite ores is an important factor.
The company’s project is located in the Fifield district of NSW, the location of Australia’s only historic source of platinum production, mined between 1887 and the mid-1960s.
In 2000 another Australian exploration company was looking at developing a nickel laterite mining operation there, and development consent (to a subsequent mining company after the property changed hands) was given in 2006. It never proceeded due to the prevailing nickel price at the time (and, one must add, in Australia at that time nickel laterite projects were a hard sell after several hopeful miners had been battered by technical problems extracting the metal).
But there’s a key sentence in the history: “Throughout the history of the project, the scandium occurrences in the drilling results remained little more than a geological curiosity”. Clean TeQ’s case is that, as industrial uses for scandium have grown, so has its importance to the project.
Between 2004 and 2008, the application of Clean TeQ’s technology for metal recovery from lateritic ores was developed in collaboration with BHP Billiton through an A$8 million investment.
Clean TeQ, in fact, has delivered a scandium recovery pilot plant to a large Japanese titanium dioxide producer. Meanwhile it is focusing on securing commitments for scandium offtake for the first stage of mine development. Several weeks ago it reported producing the first batch of 99.9% purity scandium oxide at a demonstration plant in Perth. Metals general manager John Carr said it was the first time scandium oxide of any significant quantity had been produced from the processing of primary ore using continuous ion exchange technology.
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