What is Niobium?

Jet turbine used in Niobium

What is Niobium?

Niobium is a soft, grey, ductile transition metal with the chemical symbol Nb and atomic number 41. Most deposits of niobium-bearing minerals include small amounts of this metal. Niobium with the chemical symbol, Nb was formerly, called columbium (Cb). The metal forms a variety of compounds, but most commonly it is extracted as an alloy from the ore by the Kroll process. The metal has various uses, including high strength-to-density steel alloys, superalloys, in electronics and glass production. Industrial applications include the manufacture of precision bearings, tools for cutting titanium and alloyed steel and high-temperature components for rocket engines such as igniters, insulators and exhaust nozzles.

Background of Niobium

The Swedish chemist Anders Gustaf Ekeberg officially discovered that Niobium is a rare metal in 1801. The use of this critical earth metal in everyday life started in the 20th century. It was named after Niobe, the Greek goddess of tears the daughter of Tantalus in Greek mythology. Alloys composed of zirconium with varying amounts of niobium and other metals or metalloids are mainly used to be added for properties such as corrosion resistance and hardenability. The most common alloy is Nb-Ti, used in the production of superalloys for jet and rocket engines. Niobium-clad, high-speed steel and nitriding steel are some marketed names of Nb claimed as the high-strength metal used in cutting tools.

Uses of Niobium

 

Jewelry

This metal comes in a range of wonderful anodized colours such as blue, purple, yellow, green, and brown which makes it ideal to use in jewelry. Anodizing is a process that colours the metal by dipping it into an electrically charged “bath” which results in bright colours. The coloured metal is not plated or painted and the colours cannot chip or peel off. You are unlikely to have allergic reactions to Nb like copper and silver as it is hypoallergenic. A jeweller can easily work on Niobium by cutting it with a jeweller’s saw or forged.

Steel

This metal helps in refining grains important for casting and precipitation hardening to reduce impurities of the steel. The usage of steel becomes relatively easy due to the increased toughness, strength, formability and weldability of steel.

Super Alloys
Building jet engine components, gas turbines, rocket subassemblies and heat-resisting and combustion equipment also require Nb combined with nickel, cobalt and iron-based alloys.
Electronics

Due to its high conductivity of electricity and ability to hold and store electrical charges. Electronics such as batteries and gas pipelines utilize Nb, like copper, in large proportion.

Want to know more about Copper? Check out our blog here on: What is Copper?

Medical

The strong magnetic penetration property of this element enables this metal to produce wires for superconducting magnets. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance instruments also use these magnets with strong magnetic fields along with the pacemakers and prosthetics because of their hypoallergenic properties.

Investing in Niobium

Niobium also has a huge role to play in the future electric vehicle market, leading us towards a sustainable environment. A growing understanding of steel and its usage has given rise to the popularity of Niobium. Also, an addition of just a fraction of niobium to steel increases the strength of steel with a cost of only a few dollars per tonne of steel. In fact, the making of high-strength, low alloy steel (HSLA) includes 90% of the world’s production of niobium. Henceforth, it creates a huge investment opportunity for the investors since it yields returns at a lower cost.

The structural applications along with automotive applications benefit from the addition of Niobium to steel. This addition helps in building large structures with less steel resulting in weight savings and increased fuel efficiencies. Furthermore, the usage of this metal in lithium rechargeable batteries helps boost the driving range of electric vehicles and faster charging.

According to an article from the Guardian, electric vehicles will account for 40% of global sales by 2023. It will be exciting to see how the automobile market will respond to the electric vehicles replacing our gas cars today.

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