Brazil’s production of technology-critical minerals is as important to the country’s economic future as the oil and gas industry. At the mining industry’s heart lies the metal niobium, which has alloy properties that have helped redefine the steel industry and are now being explored in a wealth of new applications
Few industries in Brazil have as much potential for growth as mining. Today less than a third of Brazil’s territory has been mapped to for mineral reserves, including niobium – one of the most exciting prospects in the mining industry today.
Niobium first became a key component in global steel production, where as little as 100g provides one ton of steel with more uniform structure and strength, making it ideal for applications as diverse as oil pipelines and jet engines. In its purest form, niobium’s superconductive properties also make it a key component in MRI machines.
Brazil’s CBMM recently rolled out a $200-million expansion plan to reach an output capacity of 150,000 tonnes of niobium per year by the end of 2020, as well as diversify R&D spending. What CBMM CEO Eduardo Ribeiro wants to do now is use a new laboratory in Axara to explore new applications in order to expand the market. One such pilot scheme is looking into the viability of using niobium oxide in batteries. This is why CBMM considers itself more of a tech company than a mining company.
According to Ribeiro, “projects in Brazil, China, Singapore and elsewhere show that using more resistant steel saves around 15% to 20% of the costs. And there is also a sustainable effect to it: it means fewer resources, less energy, and fewer CO2 emissions.”
Little wonder that China, responsible for producing more than half the world’s steel, became the major global market for the metal. Whilst competitive materials have been susceptible to price volatility, CBMM’s dominance of the niobium market have allowed it to maintain a more consistent supply landscape and explore new uses. From NASA to nuclear industries and eyesight correction to e-bikes, the niobium revolution is coming.