What is niobobaotite?

Niobobaotite, discovered by China, is a rich source of niobium, a metal highly valued for its applications in alloys and advanced technologies, also notable for its superconducting property. Its appearance, reminiscent of a celestial mineral with its grayish glow, adds a fascinating element. This innovative discovery presents niobobaotite as a promising resource.

mineral deposit

Niobobaotite is rich in niobium

Chinese geologists made the discovery in the world's largest rare earth deposit, located in Bayan Obo, Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China. The new mineral called niobobaotite is rich in niobium. It is a metal highly valued for its superconducting properties.

It is made up of a mineral mixture of niobium, barium, titanium, iron and chloride. It was officially recognized by the classification committee of the International Mineralogical Association and confirmed by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

The Bayan Obo mines are central to Beijing's dominant position in the global rare metals market. They are located 90 kilometers south of the border between China and Mongolia, and are home to the largest known rare earth resources in the world.

These metals, classified as 'rare' due to their difficulty in finding them in their pure form, are essential in everyday technology, such as mobile phones, flat screen TVs and computers, speakers and cars.

The discovery not only highlights the importance of Bayan Obo in global supply, but also opens up new possibilities for the battery technology industry in China.

Niobium in the near future

This metal plays a key role in steel manufacturing by strengthening the material without significantly increasing its weight. Its resistance to corrosion and heat makes it an essential component in various metal alloys.

It is ideal for use in the construction of rockets, oil pipelines, building structures, oil platforms, gas pipelines, and jet engines. Likewise, in the United States, niobium alloys are commonly used in the manufacture of fighter aircraft engines.

In turn, niobium plays a crucial role in advanced scientific equipment, such as particle accelerators, magnetic resonance scanners, and NMR equipment. They use it for its ability to be a superconductor at low temperatures, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

It is also used in other applications, such as the production of camera lenses, jewelry, prosthetics, medical implants, and cutting tools.

Niobobaotite contains niobium
Niobium – Image from DW

Looking ahead, niobium could see increased demand with the development of niobium-lithium and niobium-graphene batteries.

Niobium could help make batteries safer

In the future, demand for the metal could increase due to research into niobium-lithium and niobium-graphene batteries. According to S&P Global, these batteries offer several advantages:

  • They reduce the risk of fires compared to lithium ones.
  • Its charging is faster.
  • They have greater recharge capacity.

This advance in battery technology highlights the versatility and efficiency of niobium, pointing towards a possible increase in its use in the coming years.

Niobobaotite, discovered by China, could give the country self-sufficiency in niobium production. Currently, it imports about 95% of this metal, mainly from Brazil and Canada. However, the new deposit would allow this dynamic to change, although the quantity and quality of niobium are still unknown.

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