According to the South China Morning Post, a team of Chinese geologists has reported a remarkable discovery of “niobobaotite,” a previously unknown ore with promising superconductive properties. The ore deposit comprises niobium, barium, titanium, iron, and chloride.
The ore has been found in Inner Mongolia, a region China has claimed for decades and designated an autonomous region.
Niobium, a versatile transition metal, is not only a crucial component in steel production but is also renowned for its superconductive abilities, enabling the efficient transmission of electrical currents at low temperatures.
This unique property has spurred global scientific interest in niobium-based batteries, which have the potential to be safer and offer faster charging than traditional lithium-ion batteries.
This discovery holds significant implications for China, which imports 95 percent of its niobium. Antonio Carlos Neto, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore, explained, “Depending on the volume and quality of this niobium, it could make China self-sufficient.”
This newfound self-sufficiency could substantially impact the nation’s steel industry and its participation in the competitive global battery market.
One of the critical benefits of niobium-lithium batteries is their improved safety profile. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, known for their susceptibility to catching fire, niobium-lithium batteries may eliminate this risk.
Additionally, these batteries have the potential for rapid recharging, with some researchers suggesting recharging times of ten minutes or less. This innovation could be particularly transformative for electric vehicles, making them more practical and attractive to consumers.
The niobobaotite deposit was discovered in Inner Mongolia’s Bayan Obo mining district. China’s state-run nuclear oversight body, the China National Nuclear Corporation, announced that the ore has received an official approval number from the International Mineralogical Association’s classification committee.
As of 2022, Brazil was the world’s largest niobium exporter, accounting for nearly 70 percent of global niobium exports. Canada supplied approximately 30 percent of the world’s niobium, and the United States was opening its first niobium mine in Nebraska. However, China was Brazil’s top niobium importer, according to the 2022 US Geological Survey.
If the newly discovered niobobaotite contains high-quality niobium, China could transition from being the world’s largest niobium importer to the world’s primary source of this valuable compound. This shift has the potential to redefine the global niobium market, particularly amid the fierce competition within the battery industry.