China may have dethroned Brazil as the country with the world’s largest deposits of niobium, which is a critical component of steel and appreciated as a superconductor for electrical currents at low temperatures.
A report published by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) says Chinese scientists have confirmed the discovery of a large cache of rare Earth ores in Inner Mongolia, northern China, which contain plenty of niobium, barium, titanium, iron, and chloride.
Niobium, which exists in the ore called niobobaotite, is a precious metal known for its incredible superconductive properties, making it a potential game-changer in battery technology.
Thanks to low-temp electrical efficacy, scientists around the world have been experimenting with niobium-filled batteries, which may be safer and faster charging than traditional lithium-ion ones.
A smartphone, for example, can be charged in ten minutes instead of several hours.
Niobium, a soft and ductile transition metal, is used in practically everything: wind turbines, jet engines, airplane bodies, high-pressure pipelines, superconducting magnets, bridges, brake discs. The steel frames of skyscrapers too become better, tougher, and more lightweight with a bit of niobium.
China, which is the largest battery manufacturer in the world, currently imports 95% of niobium and the discovery will give it a competitive edge over other battery-makers. The new ore deposit is in the Bayan Obo mining district of Inner Mongolia and the China National Nuclear Corporation will be in charge with its exploration.
Brazil is believed to be the largest exports of niobium at present – almost 70% of the market, followed by Canada with less than 30%, according to the 2022 US Geological Survey.
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