Sumitomo Metal building rare earth recovery plant in Palawan
If things go according to plans, the Philippines may start producing rare earth by 2014.
Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd (SMM) is building a scandium recovery plant in Palawan later this year, and expects the pilot facility to operate in 2014.
“For some time, SMM has been working to develop a scandium recovery method at its Niihama Research Laboratories in Ehime Prefecture,” the company noted on its website.
“This effort has now led to the attainment of technology enabling efficient recovery of scandium from the nickel-cobalt mixed sulfide production process,” SMM said.
A silvery-white metal classified as a rare earth element, scandium is used to enhance the strength and heat and corrosion resistance of aluminum, as well as an electrolyte in solid oxide fuel cells and as an electrode in metal halide lamps and alkaline batteries.
Sumitomo Metal noted that small quantities of scandium are contained in the ore used by its majority-owned subsidiary Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) in producing nickel-cobalt mixed sulfide.
Based in Palawan in southwestern Philippines, Coral Bay Nickel produces nickel-cobalt sulfide facility using high-pressure acid leach process or HPAL.
Coral Bay Nickel buys its ore from Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp.—majority-owned by listed miner Nickel Asia Corp.
In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Monday, Nickel Asia noted that Surigao del Norte-based Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. intends to adopt the scandium recovery technology to be piloted by Sumitomo Metal if it proves successful.
Taganito HPAL is majority-owned by SMM and 22.5 percent by Nickel Asia.
“If successful, it will represent the country’s first production of a rare earth element, an important step in the development of the Philippines’ mineral resources,” Nickel Asia claimed.
Trial production at 10 kilograms (kg) per month will start sometime in 2014, according to Sumitomo Metal.
Test results of the pilot plant will guide the company in deciding whether to build a scandium oxide production facility in commercial quantities and the launch a related business in 2015.
According to Sumitomo Metals, global production of scandium is estimated at 10 tons per year with China, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States as major producers of the rare earth element.
“Owing to its modest volume of production and high cost, to date demand for scandium has been limited; but as supplies stabilize, growth is anticipated particularly in conjunction with its main
applications as an aluminum additive and as an electrolyte used in solid oxide fuel cells,” the company said. — VS, GMA News