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Niobium

What Is Niobium?

Niobium is a chemical element, part of the transition metal group, and is known as a refractory metal. It is found worldwide in minerals like columbite, pyrochlore, tantalite, niobitetantalite and euxinte. Due to its similar physical and chemical characteristics of tantalum, the two are often indistinguishable.

Niobium is rare, soft and ductile with a gray lustre and is a paramagnetic metal. In other words, it becomes magnetic in the presence of an externally applied magnetic field. It looks like steel but when polished it looks like platinum. It is corrosion resistant, a good shock absorber and can withstand very high temperatures. At cryogenic temperatures (extremely cold temperatures) it becomes a superconductor.

What Is Niobium Used For?

Niobium is used in the nuclear industry within nuclear reactor cores as it does not react chemically to uranium. Niobium is used in alloys. When combined with iron to stainless steel it offers stability in heating and welding, when combined with nickel it makes high temperature alloys and is also used in high-strength steel structures.

It is used as shock and wear resistant in cutting tools and hot-pressing dyes. Niobium is used in the construction of water and sewage pipes and in components in various types of automobiles. Niobium is added to glass to make corrective lenses as it has a higher rate of refraction.

Niobium’s conductivity makes it a useful application in superconductive magnets and electronic devices. Niobium is that safest metal one can wear, it is totally hypo-allergenic and is increasingly used in jewellery making and can be found in pacemakers, dental implant, plates and artificial joints.

Where Is Niobium Produced?

The largest niobium producers are Brazil, Canada, Zaire and Nigeria. Niobium is recovered through tantalum ore processing in Australia.

Conclusion

Niobium is a rare chemical element and forms part of the refractory metals. It is soft, ductile and most commonly found in columbite and pyrochlore minerals. It has very similar characteristics to tantalum and can also be recovered through tantalum ore processing.

There are varied uses for niobium, and it can be found in jewellery making, glass spectacles, construction pipes, electronic devices, alloys and wear and shock resistant tools. Brazil and Canada are the largest producers of niobium.

If you would like to learn more about minerals and mining visit our Mining and Metals page.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

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