Sumitomo Metal Mining is building a scandium recovery pilot plant at Coral Bay Nickel Corp., its majority-owned subsidiary located on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Small quantities of the rare earth element scandium are contained in the ore processed at Coral Bay to produce a nickel-cobalt mixed sulphide product, using Sumitomo’s high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) technology. The nickel-cobalt mixed sulphide product is an intermediate product in the nickel refining process.

Sumitomo developed technology, enabling recovery of scandium from the Coral Bay ore at its Niihama Research Laboratories in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. Plans call for a scandium oxide pilot plant to be constructed at Coral Bay by the end of 2013 and for trial production to get underway at a level of 10 kg/month in 2014. Based on the results of test operation of the pilot plant, the company will aim for construction of a scandium oxide production line of commercial scale and launch of related business activity in 2015.

Scandium is silvery-white metal with a density of 2.99. It is used in a variety of applications, including as an additive to enhance the strength, heat resistance and corrosion resistance of aluminum; as an electrolyte used in solid oxide fuel cells; and as an electrode used in metal halide lamps and alkaline batteries. Currently, global production is estimated at 10 mt/y. The major producers are in the United States, Ukraine, Russia and China.

Owing to its modest volume of production and high cost, demand for scandium to date has been limited, but as supplies stabilize, growth is expected to increase in its main applications.

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