Niobium is frequently alloyed with steel because of it strength. It is lightweight and strong at high temperatures, making it perfect for missiles and other aerospace applications. It also sees use in the nuclear and superconducting industries. The major marketable niobium materials are ferroniobium, nickel-niobium, and niobium metal, ore, and oxide. In the United States, niobium was consumed by the metallurgical industry. Niobium masteralloys—ferroniobium and niobium-nickel
alloy—were consumed to produce steel and superalloys. About 75% of world niobium consumption was for the production of microalloyed steel. Brazil and Canada were the leading producers of niobium mineral concentrates in 2009. The leading niobium ore and concentrate producers were Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (CBMM) in Brazil and IAMGOLD Corporation
(Niobec Mine) in Canada.
As much as 97% of 2008 world niobium production resulted from the mining pyrochlore mineral [(Na,Ca)2Nb2O6(OH,F)] in Brazil and Canada. Steelmaking, primarily high-strength low-alloy and stainless steels, accounted for about 90% niobium use. The niobium-containing high-strength low-alloy steel was use in automobiles, construction, and gas pipelines; the stainless
steel in automobiles
The principal use for niobium was as an additive in steelmaking, mostly in the manufacture of microalloyed steels. The production of high-strength low-alloy steel was the leading use for niobium, and the trend for niobium consumption, domestically and globally, was expected to continue to closely follow that of steel production, as the steel industry is estimated to account for as much as 90% of niobium consumption. Consumption of niobium, however, does not mirror trends in overall steel production, as only 10% of steel products contain niobium. The leading nonsteel use of niobium was in superalloys for, among other applications, aircraft engines.
The long-term growth of niobium use was interrupted by the economic downturn of 2008–09. Niobium is used in high strength
low-alloy steels consumed by pipeline, automobile, and construction industries. Greater demand for natural gas was expected to result in increased demand for pipeline steel. The sharp decline in demand for automobiles and in construction that started in 2008 was part of the current economic cycle. Recovery of these markets was expected to revive demand for niobium. It was reported that globally the unit consumption of niobium per metric ton of steel produced was 55 to 60 g/t, while that of highly economically developed countries was 100 g/t and of China was 40 g/t, suggesting significant potential for niobium consumption growth as China’s economy develops.
Domestic Production and Use: Significant U.S. niobium mine production has not been reported since 1959. Domestic niobium resources are of low grade, some are mineralogically complex, and most are not commercially recoverable. Companies in the United States produced ferroniobium and niobium compounds, metal, and other alloys from imported niobium minerals, oxides, and ferroniobium. Niobium was consumed mostly in the form of ferroniobium by the steel industry and as niobium alloys and metal by the aerospace industry. Major end-use distribution of reported niobium consumption was as follows: steels, 74%; and superalloys, 26%. In 2009, the estimated value of niobium consumption was $162 million and was expected to be about $330 million in 2010, as measured by the value of imports.
Recycling: Niobium was recycled when niobium-bearing steels and superalloys were recycled; scrap recovery specifically for niobium content was negligible. The amount of niobium recycled is not available, but it may be as much as 20% of apparent consumption.
Import Sources (2006–09): Niobium contained in niobium and tantalum ore and concentrate; ferroniobium; and niobium metal and oxide: Brazil, 84%; Canada, 9%; Germany, 2%; Estonia, 2%; and other, 3%.
Events, Trends, and Issues: Niobium principally was imported in the form of ferroniobium and niobium unwrought metal, alloy, and powder. United States niobium import dependence was expected to be the same as that of 2009, when Brazil was the leading niobium supplier. By weight in 2009, Brazil supplied 75% of total U.S. niobium imports, 69% of ferroniobium, 91% of niobium metal, and 86% of niobium oxide. The leading suppliers of niobium in ore and concentrate were Mozambique (48%) and Canada (32%). Financial market problems in 2008 and the subsequent economic slowdown resulted in reduced niobium material consumption in 2009. Niobium apparent consumption is believed to have increased significantly in 2010 compared with that of 2009.
World Resources: World resources are more than adequate to supply projected needs. Most of the world’s identified resources of niobium occur mainly as pyrochlore in carbonatite [igneous rocks that contain more than 50% by volume carbonate (CO3) minerals] deposits and are outside the United States. The United States has approximately 150,000 tons of niobium resources in identified deposits, all of which were considered uneconomic at 2010 prices for niobium.
Substitutes: The following materials can be substituted for niobium, but a performance or cost penalty may ensue: molybdenum and vanadium, as alloying elements in high-strength low-alloy steels; tantalum and titanium, as alloying elements in stainless and high-strength steels; and ceramics, molybdenum, tantalum, and tungsten in high-temperature applications.
Niobium Producers Allegheny Technologies (NYSE: ATI) - The diversified specialty metals company produces niobium, as well as hafnium, zirconium, nickel and cobalt alloys, and titanium.
Anglo American (LON: AAL) - http://www.angloamerican.com/- Their Mineracao Catalao de Goias (MCG) subsidiary operates the Catalao open pit mine. Mineracao Taboca - Pitinga Mine in Presidente Figuerido Municipality, Amazonas, Brazil Metallurg - Mibra mine near Sao Joa del Rei,Rondonia, Brazil
Cabot Corporation (NYSE: CBT) - http://www.cabot-corp.com/Niobium Capital Mining (ASX: CMY) - Narraburra prospect near Temora, New South Wales.
Commerce Resources Corp. (CVE: CCE) - niobium and tantalum from the Blue River Tantalum-Niobium Project in British Columbia
Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineracao (CBMM) - Niobium ore from the Barreiro carbonatite complex near Araxa, Minas Gerais, Brazil. In 2009, CBMM produced ferroniobium, nickel-niobium, niobium metal, and high-purity ferroniobium, and had production capacities of 90,000 metric tons per year (t/yr) of ferroniobium, 3,000 t/yr of high-purity ferroniobium
and nickel-niobium, and 210 t/yr of niobium metal
Globe Metals & Mining - Kanyika Niobium project
Hunan Nonferrous Metals Corporation (HKG: 2626)
IAMGOLD Corporation (NYSE: IAG) - http://www.iamgold.com/ - Niobec Niobium Mine near Ville de Saguenay, Saint-Honore, Quebec, Canada produced over 4,000 tons of niobium in 2009.
Jourdan Resources (CVE: JOR)
King-Tan Tantalum Industry Co. - produced niobium and tantalum products in Shishi Industrial Zone, Yifeng County, Jiangxi Province, China.
MDN Inc. (TSE: MDN) - Crevier Niobium project near Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec
Minsur SA - Their Mineracao Taboca subsidiary mined columbite at the Pitinga mine in Presidente Figueiredo Municipality, Amazon, Brazil. They produced a ferroniobiumtantalum alloy containing 45% niobium, 4.5% tantalum, and 25% iron
Ningxia Non-ferrous Metals Smeltery
Niocan (TSE: NIO) - ferroniobium
Pacific Wildcat Resources (CVE: PAW) - Mrima Hill Project near Mombasa, Kenya
Quantum Rare Earth (CVE: QRE) - Elk Creek Niobium Deposit in Nebraska
Sarissa Resources (PINK: SRSR) - Nemegosenda Niobium property near Chapleau, Northern Ontario
Tertiary Minerals - Ghurayyah tantalum-niobium-rare-earth deposit in Saudi Arabia
Wah Chang Niobium - http://www.wahchang.com/pages/products/data/niobium/default.htm - Yet another specialty of the Allegheny Technologies (NYSE: ATI) division, Wah Chang provides a wide array of niobium products and niobium alloys.
Yichun Tantalum Co. - TiChun Tantalum & Niobium Mine produced tantalum and niobium concentrate
Niobium: A Bridge Between China and Brazil - (pdf)
(wiki) - Niobium on Wikipedia
Niobium News 2011-07-14 - (pi) - Quantum Rare Earths aiming to be the only niobium producer in the United States
2011-06-23 - (pi) - Silver coins: Full Moon $5 sterling silver niobium coins up for grabs
2011-06-15 - (pi) - Globe Metals & Mining delegation reaffirm commitment to niobium project in Malawi
2011-06-10 - (nmw) - Niobium prices stability benefits Malawi
2011-06-07 - (mw) - Ferro-niobium price stability benefits Malawi project, says Globe
2011-06-01 - (po) - Researching niobium gilding in bid for better beams
2011-05-25 - (mw) - Iamgold ponders Toronto or Hong Kong listing for niobium mine
2011-05-05 - (mw) - Pacific Wildcat Resources Corp.: Further high grade niobium and rare earth results show depth potential of Mrima Hill
2011-05-04 - (reu) - Independent technical report confirms IAMGOLD's niobium mine potential with a 691% increase in M&I resources
2011-04-29 - (js) - Niobium crew hopefully drilling toward rich deposits
2011-04-21 - (js) - Niobium search begins near Elk Creek
2011-02-25 - (fb) - Iamgold CEO eyes selling Ghana stakes, niobium mine IPO
2011-02-24 - (sa) - Quantum may hold key to securing critical material niobium
2010-11-09 - (te) - Nanoparticle study focuses on high-manganese steels
2010-11-01 - (fc) - How a handful of countries control the Earth's most precious materials
2010-10-26 - (mw) - PhosCan Chemical to conduct tests for the recovery of niobium and rare earths at the Martison Property
2010-10-05 - (mw) - Sarissa files 43-101 technical report on Nemegosenda Niobium Property
2010-10-05 - (cnw) - Tasman completes airborne geophysical survey at Otanmaki rare earth element - niobium project in Finland
2010-03-24 - (pi) - Ram Resources Ltd to buy niobium project in Greenland
2010-03-17 - (mw - Niocan's niobium mine project reconfirms positive socio-economic impacts for all the stakeholders of Oka and Quebec
2010-03-12 - (mw) - Niocan plans to revisit rare earths discovery at its Oka niobium property
2010-01-29 - (mw) - MDN receives positive economic indicators for the niobium and tantalum (Anita) project