NIOBIUM

  • Niobium
  • Mines Producing Niobium

Although the existence of niobium was discovered in 1801, by Englishman Charles Hatchett (despite him misnaming it as the element columbiam Cb), it took until 1950 before it was officially adopted by IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) as niobium. It was first named niobium by Henrich Rose, a German chemist, in 1846. Some commercial producers still market it as columbium to this day, 2013.


Niobium – A Soft White Ductile Metal
When isolated, niobium appears as a soft ductile metal that is white and shiny, although it takes on a bluish tinge when exposed to normal air at room temperature for any long length of time. The colour depends a lot on its thickness as it will sometimes give off a yellow or green tinge. When exposed to air at high temperatures it begins to oxide therefore when being handled while hot (+ 200 degrees Celsius) it must be done under controlled conditions to minimise the its rapid oxidisation.


Similar Characteristics to Tantalum
Niobium has very similar characteristics as tantalum. The element tantalum is named after Tantalus, the father of Niobe and Niobium is named after Niobe the daughter of Tantalus in Greek Mythology. Some compounds of niobium are very toxic.


Uses of Niobium
Niobium is one of the group of five refractory (highly heat resistant) metals; rhenium, tantalum, molybdenum, tungsten and niobium and as such has the following uses:
- As a super conductor
- In the making of jewellery
- Alloyed with iron and other metals to produce stainless steel. It can also be alloyed with zirconium and many other nonferrous metals
- High quality pipeline construction
- As a superalloy for specialised heat resistant equipment such as in jet engines
- In cryogenic temperatures (very low temperatures, below 150 degrees celsius)


Niobium Must be Separated From Other Minerals
Niobium is not available is nature in its own right. It has to be separated from other minerals such as tantalite and columbite. When it is found associated with other minerals that specific mineral will also be found to contain tantalum. To separate niobium from other minerals it has to be oxidised first. The oxide is then reduced with either hydrogen or carbon.

Ideal Superconductior
One of the most compelling uses of niobium is in the area of superconductivity. It is used as an alloy with titanium to create superconductive wires to be used in the making of superconductive magnets. Superconductivity can also be achieved by alloying niobium with aluminium or tin. When cooled to a temperature below 442.75 degrees Fahrenheit, niobium by itself becomes a superconductor. It is these superconductors that are used in the electron accelerator at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. In this case 338 niobium cavities lying in liquid helium allow acceleration to nearly reach the speed of light.


Australia has Niobium Deposits but no Mining Activity to Date
Australia has three known economically viable deposits of niobium. These are:
- Toongi, 20 kilometres south of Dubbo in New South Wales
- Brockman – Hastings, 18 kilometres south west of Halls Creek in Western Australia
- Mt Weld in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia


There is no niobium currently being mined in Australia.
 

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