This could be a very big deal.
China claims to have discovered a vast trove of "niobobaotite," a never-before-seen ore that may have incredible superconductive promise.
According to the South China Morning Post, the rare Earth deposit comprises niobium, barium, titanium, iron, and chloride. Noibium, a soft and ductile transition metal, is a critical component of steel as well as a lauded superconductor able to transmit electrical currents at low temperatures. Because of this low-temp electrical efficacy, scientists around the world have been experimenting with niobium-laced batteries, which may be safer and faster charging than traditional lithium-ion ones.
In other words? Considering that China currently imports 95 percent of its niobium, according to the SCMP, the discovery could be a very big deal for the nation, as well as the intensely competitive global battery market as a whole.
The "discovery is significant for China since most of the niobium China uses in the steel industry is imported," Antonio Carlos Neto, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore, told the SCMP.
"Depending on the volume and quality of this niobium," he added, "it could make China self-sufficient."
Tipping the Scales
Lithium-ion batteries are prone to catching fire, and can take hours to charge. Some experimenting with niobium-lithium batteries, on the other hand, claim that the rare Earth metal could allow batteries to be recharged without fire risk in ten minutes or less, a discovery that could have game-changing implications for the future of electric vehicles in particular.
Per the SCMP, the deposit was discovered in the Bayan Obo mining district in Inner Mongolia, with the China National Nuclear Corporation, the country's state-run nuclear oversight arm, claiming the ore has received an official approval number from the International Mineralogical Association's classification committee.
As it stands, according to the 2022 US Geological Survey, Brazil is the world's largest niobium exporter, controlling just under 70 percent of the global niobium marketplace at the time of the report. Canada, meanwhile, was noted to export roughly 30 percent of global niobium, while the US is planning to open its first and only niobium mine in Nebraska. China, notably, was Brazil's top niobium buyer, as the survey reported.
If the niobium within the newly-discovered niobobaotiteis indeed high-quality, this could mean that the world's largest importer of niobium might suddenly become the world's largest reservoir of the compound — likely tipping the scales in the global marketplace at a critical juncture in the world's ongoing battery race.
More on batteries: Colossal Cache of Lithium Found in Us May Be World's Largest
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