Mainly used to strengthen steel, niobium alloys are widely employed in the manufacture of cars and aircraft.
Niobium is a superconductive and erosion-resistant material with a high melting point. The vast majority of niobium is used to produce high-strength steel through the alloy ferroniobium, which has a range of downstream applications in sectors including car and aircraft manufacturing. The supply chain of niobium is exceptionally concentrated, with almost all production occurring at two mines in Brazil and one in Canada, indicating a very high risk to supply chain resilience.
Niobium is not strongly associated with ESG issues in its supply chain, although there is occasional reporting of issues involving pollution and company-community conflict in Brazil. Niobium is also sometimes mentioned in reports relating to DR Congo, as it is often found in ores that also contain tantalum (which is designated as a ‘conflict mineral’ by the United States and European Union). However, the actual amount of niobium produced in DR Congo is miniscule, meaning that the ESG risks associated with tantalum are very unlikely to exist in the supply chain for niobium.
Main Uses and Attributes
Niobium’s key attributes are that it is superconductive, resistant to corrosion, and has a high melting point. The most important use of niobium is in steelmaking, through the alloy ferroniobium – this accounts for around 90 percent of niobium production.1https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/CRM_2020_Factsheets_critical_Final.pdf Niobium is used as an additive in steelmaking since it increases strength and allows for weight savings. As such, niobium is heavily used in car manufacturing and in construction, as well as oil and gas pipelines. It is also widely used by aircraft manufacturers to produce parts for aircraft.2https://pubs.usgs.gov/periodicals/mcs2021/mcs2021-niobium.pdf
Niobium alloys also have a range of niche uses in specialised applications that require corrosion resistance and for strength to be maintained at a high temperature. This includes applications in the nuclear and space industries, as well as in superconducting magnets used in MRI scanners. Niobium-based chemicals, such as niobium oxide is used in specialist glass employed in camera lenses. Meanwhile, niobium carbines are resistant to both wear and high temperatures, and are therefore used in hard-cutting tools and refractory coatings in nuclear reactors and industrial furnaces.3https://rmis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/uploads/CRM_2020_Factsheets_critical_Final.pdf
Supply Chain Risk
TDi assesses Niobium for key risks affecting the security of supply, and for its association with artisanal and small-scale mining.
Country Governance Risks
Niobium's association with countries experiencing: