Dr. John L. Faessel
ON THE MARKET
Commentary and Insights
If there ever was a next generation space age ‘element’ that will disrupt the status quo regarding metals used in the aerospace and automotive markets— this is it…
Russian MIG-29 Fighter
A faster, lighter, and a more fuel-efficient Soviet / Russian military aircraft using a tiny amount of scandium Sc 21 allows the fuselage to be welded (no rivets), making it 15% lighter.
SCANDIUM WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE ALUMINUM INDUSTRY
Clean TeQ Holdings – CLQ.ASX: $1.43 OTCQX: CTEQF $1.14
Market-cap USD $642 million
(For Part A see below…)
Transforming the Transport Industry
First up – the slightly long Clean TeQ elevator story re scandium:
Clean TeQ owns one of the—if not ‘the’—world’s largest and highest-grade scandium resources. Scandium is revolutionary in how it will transform aluminum for the aerospace, automotive, marine, and rail transport industries. The change is still a bit out in time; however, the major users of aluminum in the world are now deeply involved in developing applications for scandium-enhanced aluminum. Let’s imagine a world where you get all the scandium you want and at a lower cost than you’ve been able to get it historically. That day is near. Scandium is one of the most plentiful yet hard to extract elements there is: it’s ‘held’ in minute amounts in many substrates, occurring in trace quantities in over 800 minerals. Now the ‘no supply / high cost’ dynamic is on the threshold of change as chemical solutions are developing that will release the astonishing metal for a multiplicity of uses. Notably, Clean TeQ also owns one of these processes, which is highly efficient in the extraction and purification of a range of valuable strategic metals from slurries and solutions with yield recoveries near 99%. Notably, Clean TeQ has sold one of these scandium recovery plants to a major Japanese company.
Prominently, mining mogul Robert Friedland* is a major investor and Co-Chairman of the company and he recently increased his shareholding in the open market.
Here’s just a tiny slice of the Clean TeQ value proposition:
On October 9th Clean TeQ updated its scandium resource estimate by 63%, meaning that it increases the contained scandium metal in the resource to 19,222 tonnes. As mentioned, only about 15 tonnes of scandium is produced globally each year. So using a minimum scandium price of $1,500 per kilogram, this means that there could be over $28 billion of the metal in the ground. In addition, there’s additional gobs of way-more $ billions worth of cobalt, nickel, and platinum in the very same near-surface resource; see Part A, email me a request at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is claimed that using aluminum-scandium alloys could reduce the weight of a large aircraft by an enormous 10% to 15%. There is obviously a clear and direct relationship between the weight of an aircraft, the amount of fuel that it uses, and the efficiency of its performance. Simply put, weight is money in aircraft; the heavier a plane is the more fuel it takes to drive it through the air.
The astonishing Clean TeQ scandium story is on the cusp of bearing fruit as the compelling breakout chart a bit further below suggests. Read on…
One slice of the materials-science metallurgical knowledge base that has now matured and will soon break wide open in the aircraft and automotive markets has to do with the ‘latent’ yet advanced applications of scandium (element 21 on the periodic table, density 2.99)
The alloyed metal itself does not appear on the periodic table, but adding a tiny amount (0.15% to 0.20%) of scandium to aluminum creates this next generation alloy that is corrosion resistant, weldable (with no loss of strength at the weld), 3D printable, able to significantly enhance castings, ‘superplastic’ (can be fabricated to form more complex shapes), stronger and harder. Thus, the alloy can be formulated to be much lighter on a comparative basis than standard aluminum.
Pondering the above one can fairly say that, in effect, a new and astonishing metal has been born. The problem—the production impasse—has been that there is so very little scandium available. Besides occurring naturally in very low concentrations, scandium is very difficult to separate from ore and reduce to its elemental state. These reasons drive the cost of scandium to US $270 per gram—that’s US $122,500 per pound. By comparison, gold is US $18,687 per pound. And as mentioned, only about 15 tonnes of scandium are produced globally per year.
In truth the science behind scandium has been out there for a long time, with those “entities involved” assiduously working to:
- Develop sources of long-term, sustainable supply.
- Carry out the necessary science to bring new applications to fruition.
- Convince customers that there is a completely new material on the market that can address a vast range of performance characteristics which can’t be achieved with other metals today.
Major aerospace and automotive players are deeply involved, are advancing the science, and their prototypes are being featured in the news.
A Volkswagen Caddy pick-up with 3D printed front-end structure
The 3D printed frame of this VW weighs just 34 kg and is made from a special corrosion resistant, super-light scandium-aluminum alloy (AlMgSc) called Scalmalloy®, specially developed for 3D printing by AIRBUS** APWorks with Altari, csi entwicklungstechnik, EOS, GERG, and Heraeus all having had roles to play in the 3i-PRINT project.
The APWORKS website states that the Scalmalloy® aluminum alloy is corrosion-resistant and combines the low weight of aluminum with almost the specific strength of titanium. In comparison, the AlSi10Mg aluminum-silicon powder widely used for additive manufacturing is only half as strong.
Clean TeQ is fast-tracking the development of scandium applications for the automotive industry and is in discussions with key alloy producers currently providing products to the industry to establish programs utilizing scandium-containing alloys for applications such as high-strength extrusions of body frame skeletons, bumpers, etc. Moreover, scandium can be used to promote wider adoption of weight-saving aluminum in applications like body panels, with the further attraction that scandium’s addition allows for improved formability, and thus, more complex features and shapes of panels and parts. Scandium’s powerful strengthening effect allows thinner panels to be used at much lower cost, plus it allows higher recycle rates.
Another automotive application that Clean TeQ is promoting is the use of the scandium-aluminum alloy in casting automotive parts that require complex geometries, ranging from body nodes to wheels. Importantly, casting with scandium-aluminum alloy will make possible the reduction of the number of parts necessary to assemble a complete vehicle.
Clean TeQ has initiated pre-competitive development work with a North American consortium where a successful outcome will open a whole new set of attractive component markets for aluminum-scandium. The automotive sector is substantially increasing its use of aluminum, with 50% growth forecasted by 2020. Clearly, a revolutionary change in the auto industry is at hand.
The Light Rider 3D-printed motorcycle
About a year ago, AIRBUS APWorks unveiled the Light Rider, a next generation Scalmalloy® 3D printed electric motorcycle with a top speed of 80 km/h that weighs just 35 kilograms / 77 lbs., a full 30% lighter than motorcycles made using standard materials and manufacturing techniques. Interestingly, the cycle features a bionic designed organic exoskeleton. See video here.
APWorks is expanding its Scalmalloy® network of partner companies in Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) to France (Poly-Shape), Italy (ZARE), and Austria (M&H CNC Technik GmbH).
An aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy (AlMgSc) designated (AA5028) full-scale commercial aircraft fuselage skin panel developed by AIRBUS and Aleris Inc. — on display at the Paris Air Show last year.
Critically, using scandium-modified aluminum as a body skin, the aircraft fuselage may not need to be clad or painted—which would further reduce it weight and lead to significantly reduced maintenance costs.
In addition to the skin of the fuselage, AIRBUS announced in late 2015 its ‘bionic’ design Scalmalloy® partition, co-designed by Autodesk, which is 45% lighter than current designs. This pioneering computer-aided bionic design and 3D manufacturing process renders the structure stronger and more light-weight than would be possible using traditional processes. Curiously, the AIRBUS partition design is based the structure of slime mold, a single-celled organism.
According to Dr. Matthias Miermeister (manager, field engineering global aerospace) of Aleris Rolled Products, “AlMgSc has almost a technology readiness level of six (TRL 6) [see below], which means ready for qualification. We are waiting for a program to pick up this technology to get it into flight status.”
Aluminum-scandium alloys can also be used in the aircraft sector for the production of welded gas tanks, structures for dashboard panels and compartments, and large stamped and welded structures.
Analysis by specialty metals experts finds that scandium-aluminum alloys can deliver in the range of $9 million in net-present value savings for every mid-body airliner because of the metal’s light weight and ability to reduce or eliminate the use of rivets, reducing fuel consumption. In addition to those savings, incorporating aluminum-scandium alloys will allow aircraft manufacturers to boost annual revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars per year through lower materials costs, lower direct manufacturing costs, and higher manufacturing throughput. AIRBUS head of research in the UK, Colin Sirett, says: “Each kg (of weight) cut means a saving of roughly US $1million in costs over the lifetime of an aircraft.”
Perhaps even more dramatically, casting of aircraft parts with the alloy will enable even greater reduction in the number of parts necessary to assemble an aircraft’s body. I’ve read that casting the scandium-modified aluminum can reduce the number of steps for AIRBUS to build a plane’s body from 22 down to 9, significantly reducing both build time and again, cost.
In March 2015, CleanTeQ announced a collaboration agreement with AIRBUS APWorks, and later announced additional collaboration agreements with alloy manufacturer KBM Affilips in March 2015 and December 2016. Link here and here.
Clean TeQ and AIRBUS have been associated at arm’s-length for nearly a decade, working together to develop the science and its applications.
Time taken for adoption of new materials into the marketplace
Certainly, in aircraft / aerospace and to a large degree in the automotive industry, companies face daunting regulatory conditions getting newly designed parts qualified. On a modern aircraft, before there is full deployment of a product into the marketplace there’s a progression of nine levels of ‘readiness’ to be accomplished—what’s called a technology readiness level [TRL] process. NASA conceived and developed the protocol in 1974. Conspicuously, the distance between TRL 1 and TRL 9 often amounts to years of paper studies, prototype modeling, component building and testing, integration of tested components into other systems, and more tests in the laboratory and the real world. That’s where the scandium-modified aluminum is now.
Notably, Clean TeQ has a storied metallurgist, Dr. Tim Langan, as Manager Scandium Alloy Development. Dr. Langan’s history in the scandium realm goes back to almost the earliest days of scandium development. In 1995 he was at a company called Ashurst Technologies that refined and developed technologies that came directly out of the Soviet Union. Having Dr. Langan aboard Clean TeQ suggests to me that the company foresees scandium taking off in a big way. Yet again, let’s remember that Robert Friedland is Co-Chairman of this company, and if anybody is looking out in front ‘a long way’, it’s Friedland. Clean TeQ has secured a scandium expert of “the first water,” like my dad used to say. The idiom means, of the finest quality. I’ve also heard Langan referred to as Dr. Scandium.
Clean TeQ believes that if scandium is priced correctly to deliver value to customers and can be produced from a large, long-life supply source in a stable part of the world, scandium can be a catalyst for driving significant value into the global aluminum supply chain and the next generation of transport technologies.
Watch an AIRBUS 2:46 minute video re the use of its second-generation aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy Scalmalloy®. Link to video here.
Airbus Group, the North American activities of AIRBUS, has solved issues for many applications where laser beam welding can respond to requirements for new, more integral designs using high-performance alloys known for their problematic laser beam weldability.
An Interesting Sailboat Application
Oracle’s Americas Cup Team USA racing sailboats have speeds up to 50 knots and are made with a key 3D printed Scalmalloy® component, a part that weighs 57% less than the conventional part. Video here.
A key 3D printed component—a lightweight forward organizer—is printed in high strength Scalmalloy® which forms part of the system to control the wing of the race boat. Strength and lightness were imperative, so the Oracle Team USA choice was Scalmalloy®.
APWORKS has managed to save weight, time and money by adopting 3D printing techniques for the production of the sailboat component. The geometry production of the complex part was realized in just a few days, compared to weeks with conventional machining methods. The component is exhibited at The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia.
Most people probably have not heard much, or anything, about scandium. Its history goes back a ways to the Soviet Union, the first major user, who used a scandium-aluminum alloy to reduce the weight of their family of Mig 21, 25 and 29 military aircraft. The metallurgists in the Soviet Union were the scandium pioneers and the first to recognize and understand its remarkable properties. Starting in the 1950’s the Soviets sourced scandium from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the historic, now-defunct Zhovti Vody iron-uranium mine in Ukraine. To this day they do not export it.
There’s more to be said about this history… but first, a glance at the chart of one of the important scandium players I like (and own shares in.) Clean TeQ is a good example that illuminates the current story of the metal—a price and volume history demonstrating the snowballing interest in its science, its applications, its investment potential, and the story in general. The stock has just broken out of a long 8-month consolidation to new all-time highs.
Clean TeQ chart (Weekly)
MORE scandium detail:
Historically, the Soviet Union had one of the few mines that produced scandium in quantity – a very small quantity, but they had more than anyone else. As noted, it was used in their Mig fighters and in some advanced aerospace applications like ICBM’s. The weight reduction in the Migs is thought to be around 15% to 17 %, making them lighter and faster with weldable joints—i.e., no rivets. (The weight of rivets in an AirBUS 380 is thought to be about 10 tonnes.)
Prominently, the use of scandium permits the union between sheets of the alloy skin on the fuselage to be laser welded, a process orders of magnitude faster than riveting, and the fuselage can be made substantially thinner due to the enhanced strength of the scandium alloy. These factors make the additional cost of the scandium a moot economic consideration over the long run.
The wire that is used to weld can now be fabricated with scandium. There are applications not only in aerospace but in wide-ranging markets. Clean TeQ is currently working with a leading global welding wire manufacturer to undertake technical and commercial evaluation of aluminum-scandium welding wire, including production of welding wire samples for end-users testing programs.
Key elucidation re scandium:
Big picture—scandium is the most industrially disruptive metal there is. It has all the lightweight characteristics of aluminum and the strength of scale of titanium. Its corrosion resistance and weldability are key characteristics. What has been created is an alloy / metal that does not appear on the periodic table, but this aluminum-scandium alloy has qualities that far surpass other metals out there. Titanium is very expensive and very heavy compared to aluminum; steel is heavy and has issues with corrosion that need scrupulous and exacting management. The use of scandium-modified aluminum solves both of these dilemmas. Researchers claim that scandium provides the highest increment of tensile strength per atomic percent than any other alloying element when added to aluminum. In addition, scandium exhibits very good electrical conductivity and excellent heat stabilization qualities.
The alloy Al20Li20Mg10Sc20Ti30 is as strong as titanium, light as aluminum, and hard as ceramic.
And it bears repeating that scandium is not rare. There is plenty of it out there. But it is extremely rare to find in occurrences concentrated enough for economic extraction. Producing it in quantity is vexing, and the ‘market’ is still sorting out how to best go about it.
Scandium is found in minute quantities in the following ore substrates: aluminum, titanium, cobalt, nickel, iron, phosphate, zinc, tin, and zirconium, as well as in certain low-grade coals at 0.0005%. It’s also found in trace amounts in over 100 minerals. Another potentially noteworthy scandium resource is the red mud (bauxite) tailings from aluminum production, where large quantities of the residue are available.
Where to find scandium and who has it in quantity?
There are identified scandium resources in Australia, Canada, China, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.
According to the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), scandium-bearing minerals have not been mined nor recovered from mine tailings in the United States since 1990.
The global supply and consumption of scandium is estimated by the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries at about 10 tonnes to 15 tonnes per year.
Australia looks to be the major supplier of scandium and there are several companies located in in New South Wales, including Clean TeQ that will be the big producers.
In Russia, RUSAL is a prominent, global aluminum producer and is a leader in the extraction of scandium from red-mud based on Rusal's carbonization technology. It has been producing concentrations of 99% scandium oxide since August 2016. Russia stockpiles about 2 million tonnes of bauxite (the major aluminum ore) residues annually where storage is a major issue as it’s a significant environmental hazard. As mentioned above, Russia ‘holds’ the metal as a strategic material and does not export it.
The Chinese largely source their scandium from iron ore tailings at Bayan Obo (Inner Mongolia). China also sources scandium from tin oxide (TiO2) leach streams in pigment plants, and are rumored to have other secondary sources in central China.
In Japan, Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha Ltd is recovering scandium and other metals from a titanium dioxide pigment production facility in Yokkaichi, near Nagoya, using ion-exchange extraction processes. The scandium recovery pilot plant was constructed by Clean TeQ in Australia and shipped to Japan; it uses Clean TeQ’s Clean-iX ® continuous ion exchange technology.
Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining is building a scandium recovery pilot plant (a high-pressure-acid leach technology facility) at Coral Bay in the Philippines.
In Quebec, Canada, Orbite Technologies Inc., a development stage company, has an interesting proprietary process to extract scandium and other rare earths from red-mud and other feedstock mined from its Grande-Vallée clay deposit. At present Orbite is in bankruptcy protection and working to refinance; their shares are currently halted.
Much of foreign mine production data for 2016 were not available at the time of this report.
The single largest scandium user is Bloom energy
While aerospace, aircraft, and automotive applications are yet nascent in the burgeoning arc of development and utilization, scandium has been used in the solid oxide fuel-cell industry since 2008, primarily by Bloom Energy, the dominant supplier of advanced fuel-cells. Bloom Energy is the leading solid oxide fuel cell [SOFC] manufacturer and currently the single largest scandium user. More on Bloom Energy below. ***
Industry sources claim that if scandium supply sources increase, the solid oxide fuel-cell market would be able to use between two and five times the amount of scandium it currently consumes.
Another current use of scandium-aluminum alloys is in high voltage power transmission lines where it’s important for strength and superior conductivity. In addition, it’s used in high intensity scandium based lamps, and in golf clubs, fishing poles, ski poles, and handgun frames.
Now—About Clean TeQ
Clean TeQ owns one of the world’s largest and highest grade scandium resources
Clean TeQ’s 100% owned Syerston cobalt-scandium project is one of the largest and highest grade scandium deposits in the world and is in an established mining region in New South Wales, Australia. Critical key permitting is completed, as is the Environmental Impact Statement. Over 1,300 core holes have been drilled in the over 4km horizon, near-surface deposit to delineate the resources size and grade. Importantly, it is shallow (5m to 40m) and amendable to simple low-risk strip mining by excavators. Power and gas are close by and water allocations have been secured. The Syerston project has scandium grades that are 6-30 times conventional sources and there’s plenty of it; the scandium from the deposit may have a 20-year mine life.
Notably, the Syerston resource is also the largest undeveloped source of cobalt outside of Africa. Uniquely and patently, cobalt is a co-product here, not a by-product.
Clean TeQ also owns Clean-iX®, a proprietary ion exchange extraction and purification processing technology that will recover more strategic metal from mine water, effluent, and tailings and convert them into saleable products. The process yields recoveries near 99%.
Clean TeQ Water’s proprietary CIF® and NEX™ water-treatment systems are providing innovative wastewater treatment solutions for removing hardness, desalination, nutrient removal, and zero liquid discharge. Clean TeQ is operational, and/or in construction in China, Oman, Australia, and Africa.
If you missed my Part A report on Clean TeQ’s cobalt / nickel play, please email me a request at: email@example.com
I mentioned the Clean TeQ AIRBUS relationship earlier—a heads of agreement with AIRBUS focused on applying scandium in particular alloys in both 3D-printed applications and fuselage applications. Clean TeQ has also announced a heads of agreement for aerospace components with USA-based Universal Alloy Corporation, [UAC], one of the world’s largest suppliers of extruded parts to the aerospace segment. Clean TeQ is currently working with UAC developing lightweight solutions that include casting and functional testing of a range of aluminum-scandium alloys, including commercial-scale production runs of extruded aerospace parts.
In March of 2016, Clean TeQ announced that samples of high purity (99.9%) scandium oxide (Sc2O3) were shipped to potential offtake customers in the aluminum and solid oxide fuel cell sectors. The samples will be used for quality verification testing.
While Clean TeQ gets its cobalt / nickel mine up, running, and producing scandium, much of its marketing planning and product development work re scandium is already well progressed, if not finished.
Clean TeQ’s plan, as I understand it, is to go after the cobalt / nickel first and stockpile the scandium; having thus built up a supply, the marketplace can ‘see’ that a sizeable quantity is there. Reliability of supply is the foremost issue for the major ‘to be’ tier-one companies. The issue has always been that not enough scandium is available to convince the major players to go ahead with their applications. It’s a market problem, and it always has been; the market needs large-scale available supply ‘stat’—i.e. immediately—to convince customers to sign long term offtake agreements. Thus, building a stockpile makes good strategic and economic sense under the circumstances. Clean TeQ is planning to build a $20 million scandium refinery on the Syerston footprint.
Because the Syerston resource will be firstly a cobalt and nickel producing mine with scandium as a bi-product, the costs of scandium recovery, in effect, get a ‘free-ride’ as most of this cost will be borne by the cobalt / nickel. The cost to gather a kilo of cobalt / nickel is roughly $400 to $500; to ‘gather’ scandium would be about half that, roughly about $200 to $250 a kilo; thus Clean TeQ becomes the low cost producer.
The aircraft industry will need 200 to 300 tonnes of scandium oxide a year states Dr. Andrew Matheson, President of OnG Commodities who is thought to be an expert in specialty and niche metals. And the automotive demands would be much larger. Keep in mind that lightness is an imperative in the electric car / EV space.
The major users ‘to be’ in aircraft, aerospace, automotive, rail, and marine want and need to have reliable commercial sources of affordable supply available and accessible for long-term contracts to be generated. And these supply hurdles, from what I can see, are being met with a global push to hasten engagement of the disparate scandium players, as recent offtake agreements demonstrate.
With only 10 to 15 tonnes of scandium produced globally each year due to the scarcity of supply and limited production, scandium is one of the most expensive metals in the world. Prices for 99.99% pure scandium oxide have fluctuated between US $4,000 and US $20,000 per kilogram over the past decade, according to Strategic-metal.com. Due to this current limited market, there is a wide range of prices offered for the metal at any given time. A recent offer (September 2017) for 99.9% scandium concentrate was at US $15,000 /kg.
Currently the prices for scandium oxide can range from $2,000–$5,000/kg. It’s thought that as the scandium supply increases the pure scandium oxide will come down in price to perhaps $1,500 to $2,500 a kg.
Depending on the percentage of the scandium alloying element added to the mix, the prices of the alloys are expected to cost between 30% more than non-scandium alloy (at scandium levels of between 0.06% up to 0.12%.)
Estimation the global need assuming adequate supply
According to CleanTeQ, only a 1% uptake of a 0.2% aluminum-scandium alloy would require 167 tonnes per annum of scandium oxide for the North American and European markets alone. Taking into account a 10% CAGR in global use of aluminum in light vehicles, a modest 1% uptake (1.5 kg of scandium oxide per car) by 2025 would require 433 tonnes a year. Long term supply contracts at affordable (lower) price would be necessary for wider future adoption of scandium aluminum alloy in automobiles.
* Mining mogul and billionaire Robert Friedland is Co-Chair and Non-Executive Director of Clean TeQ and has a significant ownership position of 94,518,888 shares. Notably, Friedland bought an additional 1,999,704 shares in the open market in June 2017.
In late February 2017, Clean TeQ sold Shanghai, China based Pengxin International Mining Co. Ltd. 16.2% of the company for $81 million. Pengxin has also agreed to use its best endeavors to assist Clean TeQ in procuring Chinese project financiers to participate in a significant proportion of financing the Syerston Project’s capital cost.
** AIRBUS has 133,000 employees and has $79 billion in revenues. Boeing has $66 billion in revenue. The Airbus Group makes the world's largest passenger airliner, the A380, and is a major aerospace and defense company.
*** More re Bloom Energy
The best designed solid oxide fuel cells [SOFC's] today are based on scandium-stabilized zirconia electrolytes, where scandium is the best known doping agent for this purpose—improving power density and notably lowering operating temperatures considerably, thereby extending unit life to 10 years (10X). (A doping agent is an intentional addition of ‘impurities’ to control or moderate electrical properties.)
Bloom Energy’s top-secret breakthrough state-of-the-art Bloom Energy Server was first shipped to Google, their first customer in 2008. Cost of their 100-kW Bloom Energy Server is $700,000 to $800,000.
I have bought shares of Clean TeQ on the open market and it is my intention to buy additional shares.
Clean TeQ website: http://www.Clean TeQ.com/company/
If you would like the May 2017 Investor Presentation on Clean TeQ from the Macquarie Conference, request it at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass it on to you.
Disclosure: I am/we are long CTEQF.
Additional disclosure: I have bought shares of Clean TeQ on the open market and it is my intention to buy additional shares.