World-wide Niobium and Tantalum Availability

Niobium is a shiny, white, soft, and ductile metal with superconductive properties. Niobium products are used in a wide variety of applications. The largest end market for HSLA steel is for large diameter steel pipelines for the transmission of natural gas and oil. Price increases in oil and natural gas during the last years have created a new interest in exploration for, and transmission of, these energy sources, hence there is increased demand for pipelines. HSLA steel is also used in the manufacture of cars and trucks. Further, niobium is a key element in the superconducting wire marked. Economic quantities of niobium are contained in pyrochlore and columbite, with small quantities obtained as a by-product from the processing of tantalite, tin slags and loparite. In general, large deposits of pyrochlore have been found associated to carbonatites. The world largest deposit of pyrochlore is located at Araxá, in Minas Gerais State, Brazil. The second largest deposit is Catalão, located in the State Goias, Brazil. Both deposits make Brazil to the world-leading niobium producer with 4.3 Mt reserves niobium ore. The third biggest operation is St. Honoré, Canada, which contains both pyrochlore and columbite. The mine has reserves of 0.11 Mt niobium ore. Those countries provide 98 % of the annual niobium production and 99 % of the proven niobium reserves. The remaining niobium mineral supply came from the mining of columbite in Nigeria and the mining of tantalite-columbite, mostly in Australia, Brazil, and certain African countries. World resources are more than adequate to supply projected needs.

Tantalum is a grey, heavy, and very hard, metal and highly conductive of heat and electricity. The major use for tantalum remains the sintered powder anode and wire in the solid tantalum capacitor. Because of its high melting point, good strength at elevated temperatures, and good corrosion resistance, tantalum is combined with cobalt, iron, and nickel to produce super-alloys that are used in aerospace structures and jet engine components. Australia supplies over 50 % of tantalum production with the largest tantalum-mining operations in the world, Greenbushes and Wodgina. Other significant production came from Africa, Brazil (20 %), Canada (5 %), and China. Brazil provides the biggest tantalum reserves with 88 Kt Ta, followed by Australia with 78 Kt Ta, Nigeria with 7 Kt Ta, and Canada with 5 Kt Ta. Further producing countries are e.g. Dem. Rep. of the Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia. Identified resources of tantalum, most of which are in Australia, Brazil, and Canada, are considered adequate to meet projected needs.
This study was performed on behalf of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR).

Warnsloh, J.M. and Meyer, F.M. (2007) World-Wide Niobium and Tantalum Availability. Berichte zur Lagerstätten- und Rohstoffforschung, Vol. 49, pp115, BGR Hannover.