Scandium’s two most promising applications are in solid oxide fuel cells and in scandium-aluminum alloys. However, there are a number of other uses for the material.
Scandium’s two most promising applications — should a reliable source of supply emerge — are in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) and in scandium-aluminum alloys.
SOFCs are a major application of scandium. These fuel cells can produce energy very cheaply and efficiently through continuous heat-producing internal reactions. SOFCs can be powered with cheap natural gas, and overall electricity from these cells costs only cents for each kilowatt hour.
Meanwhile, scandium-aluminum alloys show significant promise in many areas. This type of alloy is light and strong, and may be used in airplanes and in other applications with high-performance demands. Scandium-aluminum alloys can also be used in a type of 3D printing that creates CAD models entirely of metal.
Due to the lightness and strength of scandium, there are a number of further uses for the metal. Those include:
- Ceramics: A very hard mixed carbide can be created by mixing about 20 percent scandium carbide with titanium carbide. To give some context, the material is softer only than diamonds.
- Electronics: Scandium is a key part of the laser material gadolinium scandium gallium garnet (GSGG). GSGG is supposed to be more than three times as effective as a similar material made with yttrium and aluminum. Furthermore, scandium can be used in computer switches. Undulating light passes through garnet and microwave equipment to make these switches work.
- Lighting: The critical metal is also useful for creating high-intensity lights that mimic natural light. Scandium has a broad emission spectrum that is close to the light of the sun, and is used to great effect for camera lighting, as well as for movie and television studio lights.
- Phosphorus and displays: Scandium compounds can act as a host for phosphorous — often the activator ion in TV and computer monitors — as scandium can activate red luminous material that is useful in TV displays. However, the current high cost of scandium prevents this application from being very common.
Finally, it’s important to note that scandium is very close to yttrium in both composition and use. Given suggestions that the world is set to experience a yttrium deficit, scandium may find uses as a substitute for yttrium in energy-efficient lighting systems and in chemical refining technologies. In fact, in some cases, scandium is more effective than yttrium. It is a better conductor of electricity and is already known to work well in high-performance lighting. Currently, scandium is about 100 times the price of yttrium, but the cost disadvantage for the critical metal may be minimized when the comparative benefits of scandium are considered.