Niobium - An Introduction

While niobium was discovered in 1801 by Hatchett, it was not until 1864 that the metal itself was produced, when Blomstrand reduced niobium chloride.

Although known most commonly as niobium, there are many such as leading chemical societies that refer to it synonymously as columbium. Niobium became the preferred name, when in 1950, it was adopted by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

There are 16 known isotopes of niobium

Occurrence

It is found in minerals such as niobite (also known as columbite), niobite tantalite, pyrochlore and euxenite. Niobium deposits are often found associated with carbon silicate rocks known as carbonatites or as a constituent of pyrochlore. Deposits of such minerals are found in countries such as Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, the former USSR and Zaire.

Key Properties

  • It is shiny and white in appearance, but may turn slightly bluish upon extended exposure to air
  • It is susceptible to oxidation at raised temperatures. Therefore thermal processing should be carried out in a protective atmosphere.
  • It possesses good ductility
  • Possesses superconductive properties

Applications

Niobium is used in:

  • Approximately 90% of niobium goes into carbon and alloy steels and non-ferrous alloys as an alloying agent where it imparts improved strength e.g. high strength low alloy (HSLA) steels, where up to about 1% niobium may be added
  • Arc welding rods for stabilised grades of stainless steels
  • Advanced airframe systems

Niobium alloys and aompounds

  • Superconducting magnets have been made from Nb-Zr, Nb-Ti and Nb-Sn alloys
  • It is sometimes alloyed with copper to produce high strength, high conductivity metal via powder metallurgy
  • Nb-Zr alloys are also used for fuel tubes in nuclear reactors
  • Fabricated metal components in chemical plants
  • Nb2O5 is used in high refractive index glasses
  • Lead-niobate is used in piezoelectric devices
  • Single crystal lithium niobate is used in acoustic wave filters in televisions and other similar devices

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