A highly stable oxide forms on the surface of niobium when it is exposed to air. In Quebec, the host mineral of niobium is pyrochlore, by far the main source of the niobium currently produced in the world. It also combines easily with alloys, and becomes a superconductor at temperatures certain temperature.
Niobium is generally consumed in one of three forms
- Niobium pentoxide
- Niobium alloys
The steel industry consumes nearly 90% of these products, mostly in the form of ferroniobium. Ferroniobium is primarily used in high strength, low-alloy steel and stainless steel. High strength steel alloys containing niobium are generally used in the construction, pipeline and automotive industries. Stainless steel containing niobium is mostly used in automobile exhaust manifolds, pressure vessels and firewalls. Other niobium products are used in super alloys found in the aerospace industry, superconductors that find their main commercial application in magnetic resonance imaging, and non-metallic products such as optic glass and ceramic capacitors, among other things.
Niobium Production in Quebec
In Quebec, the Niobec mine in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean produces niobium in the form of ferroniobium. Canada is the second largest niobium producer in the world after Brazil, generating 3,300 tonnes of niobium contained in ferroniobium.
Excerpts from the US Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook 1999
“Columbium” and “niobium” are synonymous names for the chemical element with atomic number 41; “columbium" was the name given in 1801, and “niobium” was the name officially designated by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in 1950. The metal conducts heat and electricity well and is characterized by a high melting point (about 2,470C), resistance to corrosion, and ease of fabrication.
Niobium is produced from the pyrochlore concentrate, niobium pentoxide (Nb2O5), extracted from open pit and underground mines. The concentrate is the converted to ferroniobium. Ferroniobium is used worldwide, mostly as an alloying element in steels and in super alloys. Because of its refractory nature, appreciable amounts of niobium in the form of high-purity ferroniobium and nickel niobium are used in nickel-, cobalt-, and ironbase super alloys for such applications as jet engine components, rocket subassemblies, and heat resisting and combustion equipment. Niobium carbide is used in cemented carbides to modify the properties of the cobalt-bonded tungsten carbide-based material. It is usually used with carbides of such metals as tantalum and titanium. Niobium oxide is the intermediate product used in the manufacture of high-purity ferroniobium, nickel niobium, niobium metal, and niobium carbide. Acceptable substitutes, such as molybdenum, tantalum, titanium, tungsten, and vanadium, are available for some niobium applications, but substitution may lower performance and/or cost-effectiveness.
Other article on Niobium