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Never-Before-Seen Ore With a Rare Earth Element Discovered

Platinum Palladium Ore
Chinese researchers discovered a new ore called niobobaotite, which contains the rare earth element niobium. Image: Platinum-Palladium Ore. Credit: Flickr/ James St. John CC-BY 2.0

Chinese researchers have recently discovered a new ore called niobobaotite in the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, which contains the rare earth element niobium. This is a significant advancement in materials science and mining considering niobium is highly valued for its superconductive properties.

Niobobaotite is composed of several elements, including niobium, barium, titanium, iron, and chloride, according to the South China Morning Post.

Niobium, a light-gray metal, is highly valued for its unique properties. Currently, it is primarily used in reinforcing steel, enhancing its strength without increasing its weight.

Niobium is also a crucial component in the production of various alloys, materials created by combining different metals. Moreover, it is a key ingredient in particle accelerators and other advanced scientific equipment due to its superconducting properties at low temperatures, as described by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Never-before-seen-ore discovery may be windfall for China

The niobobaotite deposit was located within the Bayan Obo ore deposit, situated in the city of Baotou in Inner Mongolia.

The brownish-black ore represents the seventeenth new type of ore discovered in this deposit and is part of a larger discovery of 150 new minerals in the region, as reported by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

This finding could be a significant benefit for China, as the country presently imports ninety-five percent of its niobium, as indicated by the South China Morning Post.

Antonio H. Castro Neto, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), revealed that, depending on the quantity and quality of this niobium, it has the potential to enable China to become self-sufficient in its niobium supply.

Brazil, the world’s largest niobium supplier

Currently, Brazil holds the distinction of being the world’s primary supplier of the rare earth metal niobium, with Canada following as a distant second. The United States is taking steps to establish its own source, as per information from the U.S. Geological Survey.

There is an ongoing initiative to establish a niobium mine and processing facility in southern Nebraska known as the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project. If successful, this project would mark the sole niobium mine in the United States, reported Live Science.

Additionally, niobium’s demand may increase in the future as researchers are actively exploring the development of niobium-lithium and niobium-graphene batteries, which could have a substantial impact on various technological applications.

S&P Global says that niobium-lithium batteries offer the advantage of reducing the risk of fires when used alongside lithium. Additionally, these batteries have the benefit of faster charging times and the ability to be recharged more frequently compared to conventional lithium batteries.

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