Niobium Monopoly

Niobium (Nb/41) is a soft, malleable, and highly resistant superconductor metal. It naturally occurs in nature, mingled with other kinds of metallic minerals. Because it is a material that increases the level of efficiency of metallic alloys, Niobium is employed in a plethora of industrial sectors such as construction, naval, space, aeronautical, nuclear, and technological industries. The performance of its usage is so high that only a few grams per tons are capable of increasing the resistance and lightness of steel significantly. Although there are minerals with similar use and characteristics, such as Titanium, Tantalum, and Vanadium, these materials are not equivalent in performance to Niobium.

The overwhelming occurrence of this element is concentrated in Brazil, where 98% of the world reserves have been identified. In this context, Brazil exports of Niobium accounts for 90% of the global trade, being only one mining group responsible for 80% of the worldwide supply. This situation raises concerns of other countries related to supply dependency in other and conspiracy theories in Brazil that this monopoly could have been selling cheap an essential natural resource of the country. Moreover, the price of Niobium is not defined as commodities, but by direct negotiations between sellers and buyers.

Although it is identified as a strategic natural resource for Brazil, it has not a specific national public policy to rule the exploration of this resource. Most of the technologies applied in its extraction were developed by the private groups, which created the Niobium market and have controlled it until today. With the development of the technological and sustainability industry, the demand for Niobium tends to increase, given its capabilities to increase the efficiency and lightness of other materials. Car batteries, high-tech windows, and X-ray machines are a few examples of its applications. However, the amount of Niobium necessary to give such efficiency is low, and the cost of extraction is high. This is the argument defended by the mining groups that control its exploration to maintain prices low and avoid foreign competition. Even only with 1% of the world reserves, Canada could supply the world demand for years if it increases its extraction of Niobium.

The challenge would be to develop new products with aggregated value to increase the demand for Niobium and increase its benefits to society as a whole. However, this development would also pose a threat to natural environments and indigenous communities of amazon forest, which are localized close to some unexplored identified reserves of this element.


By Pedro Chaves Venzon



O polêmico nióbio


Author: GEN