What is Niobium?

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What is Niobium?

Niobium is one of the metals fabricated at Special Metals Fabrication, and comes with its own set of advantages and characteristics. As a unique element on the periodic table, Niobium cannot be created from other elements and is not found in its pure form, but occurs abundantly in minerals and ores. Some scientists believe that niobium is the 34th most common element on Earth, while others think that it is actually much more abundant than that, with large reserves concentrated at the Earth’s core.

The niobium is extracted from the minerals by a variety of processes including acid reactions and electrolysis, and once purified into its pure elemental state, it is a lustrous, soft grey metal with a resistance to corrosion and a very high melting point. Chemically, it is similar to Tantalum, and the two are usually found together in mineral deposits and share many of their physical and chemical properties – however, unlike the very hard and dense tantalum, niobium is a soft metal and is only half the density of the other transition metals, making it much lighter and more manageable than the likes of tantalum and tungsten.

Niobium also has a range of properties which are not shared by the other transition metals, which make it very valuable as a component in industrial, scientific, military and engineering applications.

For example, Niobium is used as a key component in many superconducting materials, and forms the backbone of the superconducting alloys used in the superconducting magnets of MRI scanners and other specialist medical equipment. Niobium is also used as a microalloying element in steel, introduced into the steel in tiny quantities to cause large increases in strength and melting point, as well as slowing the formation of steel crystals in the metal, leaving the steel malleable for longer and increasing its toughness, malleability and workability.

Niobium in its pure form is also used in a variety of applications due to its good cold ductility, extremely high melting point (around 2470°C, or 1000°C higher than the melting point of steel) and its extremely good conductivity. Pure niobium superconductors are currently being used in the International Linear Collider and as superconductive radiation detectors in the South Pole Telescope, while pure niobium and some of its alloys are also physically inert and hypoallergenic, making them the perfect choice for medical prosthetics and implanted medical devices, as well as jewellery.

Niobium is a crucial component in spacecraft and jet engines, too, where its incredibly high melting point and its ability to strengthen alloys lends itself well to use in superalloys. Commonly used in jet turbines, rocket assemblies, turbo charger systems and other high-stress, extremely high-heat applications, niobium alloys provide a strength and versatility that would be impossible without this incredible material.

At Special Metals Fabrication, we work with pure niobium and niobium alloys to provide the results our clients need. Whether you need niobium wire, niobium bars, plates, sheets or tubes, or something a little more specialised, Special Metals will be able to fabricate the parts you need – just call us on 01268 820409 today!

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