Niobium (once known as columbium) is a chemical element with the atomic number 41 and represented by the chemical symbol Nb. It is a gray transition metal that does not occur in its free form in nature. However, it is the 33rd most abundant element in the crust of the Earth and it can be found in certain minerals such as pyrochlore. The largest deposits of this mineral have been found in Canada and Brazil, and the largest amount of niobium is produced by these two countries each year. There are approximately 4.4 million tonnes of niobium reserves on the planet and about 63,000 metric tons of this metal are produced each year. Let’s take a look at some of the most common applications of niobium in the world today.
Uses of niobium
- About 90% of the niobium produced each year is used in the steel industry. It is added to steel to improve the strength, toughness and to improve the welding of the steel. This type of steel is known as high grade structural steel. Niobium is also added to some types of stainless steel and the high strength steels that are used in the automobile industry.
- Another relatively large use of niobium is in the superalloy industry. It is commonly added to iron, cobalt and nickel based superalloys, which are commonly used in the aerospace industry. An alloy that contains niobium (89%), hafnium (10%) and titanium (1%) is used in thruster nozzles, which were used on the Apollo Lunar Modules.
- Niobium-tin/germanium/titanium alloys are used in superconducting magnets. These magnets are used for applications such as MRI scanners and particle accelerators. Pure niobium also has other uses in the superconducting industry.
- Lithium niobate is used in optical modulators and cell phones. It can also be used in capacitors.
- Niobium is hypoallergenic, which means that it can also be used in making jewelery for people with allergies. It is also used in medical devices, such as pacemakers, for the same reason.
- Other occasional uses of niobium include: commemorative coins, corrective lenses, sodium vapor lamps and in arc welding rods.