PHL top geologist urges gov’t to focus on ‘rare’ elements

MANILA — One of the top geologist in the country and a mining expert has urged the government to focus on “rare” elements that can possibly be found in the country’s ores in order to give additional value to mineral exports.

According to Dr. Carlo Arcilla, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences, such rare elements like “scandium” can be used in manufacturing advanced batteries and as an alloy to aluminum in order to enable the latter to be welded with other metals and be utilized in producing plane parts.

“The price of scandium can reach USD170 per gram. China is the biggest producer of scandium and we should know how many percent of that we are bringing in to them without our knowledge. If you mix scandium with aluminium, it will become heat resistant yet still lightweight,” said Arcilla in an interview over the weekend.

It can be noted that majority of the country’s nickel shipments is brought to China and scandium can be found in nickel ores.

“If you wash the ores using acid, nickel will be melted but scandium will be dissolved. So, what we will do is to discover how we can separate scandium from nickel since the rare earth element is not pannable,” he said.

For this year, Arcilla said he would partner with a Japanese scientist and will explore nickel mining areas in the country to collect samples and quantify the level of scandium concentrates as well as to discover other potential elements, an effort wherein the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has allotted a Php 10 million funding.

He, however, said that they still had not identified yet the locations for the exploration but will initially collect samples in Palawan, Surigao and Zambales, and later on finding a way to effectively extract scandium from nickel ores.

The geologist also claimed that there were already talks between DOST and the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) on researches where they could jointly fund to further improve the country’s mining industry.

“We have a very good chance of becoming big (supplier) on scandium. We also really need to develop nickel for us to have local steel as all of its raw materials are being imported,” he said. Lilybeth Ison/