Fun Facts about Scandium
Nuts and Bolts of Scandium
1. Scandium (Sc) was discovered in 1879 by Lars Nilson in Scandinavia, from which the element gets its name .
2. With an atomic number of 21, scandium is a member of the large family of transition metals. Transition metals differ from other elements because their valence electrons, or those electrons that combine with other elements, are present in the two outermost electron shells around the nucleus .
3. Scandia has 21 protons and electrons and 24 neutrons, an atomic mass of 44.96, and melts at 2,802 degrees Fahrenheit .
Current Sources and Uses of Scandium
1. Scandium is most commonly obtained during the process of uranium refining, but can also be derived from the minerals thortveitite, bazzite, or wiikite .
2. The concentration of scandium in the earth’s crust is about 10 parts per million , which is similar to the concentration of lithium and about 1/10 the concentration of iron.
3. Once purified, a single gram costs $270 and a pound $122,500, so its use is mainly limited to alloys .
4. The primary geographic sources of scandium are China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine (4). In the future, Australia may be one of the world’s biggest suppliers because of the large deposits that have been found, its purity, and the absence of uranium in the deposits .
5. When combined with aluminum it forms one of the lightest, strongest alloys in the world and confers significant improvements to aluminum in terms of durability, plasticity, corrosion resistance, and its ability to be welded .
6. The aerospace industry may become one of the biggest users of such alloys and the airplane manufacturer Airbus estimates scandium alloys could reduce aircraft weight by 15% and make aircraft production 15% cheaper .
7. For now though, the average person will probably encounter scandium as an aluminum alloy in sports equipment, like baseball bats and bicycle frames , primarily because scandium production is unpredictable and currently insufficient to meet demand.
8. The star at the center of our solar system is apparently one of the riches sources of scandium, as are other stars in our galaxy. When scandium is burned within our sun it helps produce sunlight . Accordingly, scandium is added to mercury lamps to produce a light spectrum that more closely matches that produced by the sun.
A Bright Future in Fuel Cells
1. A likely future use of scandium (also known as scandia) is in fuel cells. Solid-oxide fuel cells operate at extremely high temperatures (1,830 degrees Fahrenheit) and can directly convert a variety of hydrocarbon fuels into electricity . Because this fuel cell operates at such high temperatures there is no need for a catalyst and the efficiency of energy conversion can reach as high as 85%. Unfortunately, heat-related safety issues and heat-associated wear and tear on the fuel cell components makes them impractical for anything other than industrial applications.
2. As a result of these limitations scientists are developing fuel cells that can operate at temperatures below 1100 degrees Fahrenheit . Of the many compounds that have been tested scandia-stabilized zirconia stands heads and shoulders above the rest by acting as a very good electrical conductor at the desired lower temperatures.