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Niobium

Niobium (Nb) is a rare, soft, shiny, grey-white, ductile transition metal. It is primarily found in the minerals pyrochlore (Nb>Ta), columbite (Nb>Ta) and tantalite (Ta>Nb). Minerals containing niobium often also contain tantalum, an element that shares many chemical and physical characteristics with it. Niobium is found in alkaline intrusive rocks, carbonatites, granites and pegmatites.

World Reserves and Production
World reserves of niobium are estimated at 484Mt: the largest reserves are located in Brazil and Canada. World production in 2011 is estimated at approximately 60,000t (Nb metal contained).

Deposits
Niobec (Québec): The Niobec underground mine has been opretaing for 30 years and is North America’s only source of pyrochlore, currently producing 7-8% of world consumption. 2011 production was 4,400tpa of niobium metal contained in ferroniobium.

CBMM Araxá (Brazil): CBMM’s (Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração) Araxá niobium deposit is carbonatite-hosted and consists of primary ore (1.5% Nb2O5) in the core, and residual material (2.5-3% Nb2O5).

Applications
Niobium is used with iron and other elements in stainless steel, high strength low alloy (HSLA) steels and other alloys. Niobium alloys are strong and are often used in pipeline construction, superalloys for jet engines and turbines, and heat resistant equipment.

Market
Growth in the niobium market was high during the 2000s, with growth coming to an abrupt hault in 2008 as core markets such as HSLA steel, the automotive sector and major construction decreased demand. Demand for Niobium is expected to return to a long-term growth trend (8-10% pa) as market segments where niobium is well-established and often has no substitute, will continue to expand and new niches for niobium continue to be developed.