Just a few weeks ago, huge deposits of lithium were discovered in the United States, an extremely valuable element for producers of batteries needed in the automotive electrification industry and in the production of power banks and many other electronic devices. However, this discovery has been overshadowed by the discovery of an entirely new ore in China – neopautite – containing an extremely rare earth element, niobium. Suffice it to add here that niobium itself has the potential to revolutionize the battery sector, and if that is not enough, it is characterized by the ability to superconduct. The discovery was made in the Bayan Obo deposit located in Inner Mongolia.
The feeling is also that scientists had never seen this type of ore before, but it was still under their feet. According to information provided by researchers and published in the journal South China Morning NewspaperNiobautite consists of atoms of niobium, barium, titanium, iron and chlorine.
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However, niobium is the most interesting element here. We are talking about a light gray metal similar to silver, currently used in the production of steel. The mixture of this metal greatly strengthens it, without unnecessarily increasing its weight. As if that were not enough, niobium is also used to produce other alloys used in the high-tech sector, for example in the construction of particle accelerators or other scientific instruments. Its main advantage is the ability to superconduct at low temperatures.
The discovery was made in the Bayan Obo deposit in the city of Baotou in Inner Mongolia just one week ago, on October 3, 2023. This is not the first discovery of this kind in this place. This is the 17th new ore found at this place. According to the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), 150 previously unknown minerals have been discovered in this area over the years.
It is worth emphasizing another aspect of the discovery. For Chinese scholars, this is literally a lottery win, because the Middle Kingdom has so far imported up to 95 percent. Niobium used in industry However, there is no answer yet to the question of how much niobium is actually present in the newly discovered ore and what its quality is. In an optimistic scenario for China, the Bayan Obo deposit may make China self-sufficient in terms of niobium availability.
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Currently, Brazil and Canada are the world’s largest exporters of rare earth minerals. At this time, the United States is intensively building a niobium mine in southern Nebraska. If it does manage to open, the Elk Creek Minerals project will be the only niobium mine in this country.
Moreover, all signs in the sky and on earth indicate that the demand for niobium may increase significantly in the future. Currently, many research centers are doing extensive work on the development of niobium-lithium, niobium-graphene batteries. Analysts point out that batteries of this type are less susceptible to fires, charge much faster and can be charged more often than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Considering the number of batteries that will need to be produced in a few years due to the transition to renewable energy sources and electric cars, this sector of the economy will certainly gain importance.
Scientists working on niobium and graphene batteries at the Center for Advanced 2D Materials (CA2DM) say they could last for up to thirty years, which is ten times longer than the lithium-ion batteries currently in common use.
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