China discovers never-before-seen ore containing a highly valuable rare earth element

In Inner Mongolia's Bayan Obo deposit, a new mineral known as niobobaotite was found. It includes the rare earth element niobium, a precious metal that functions as a superconductor and has the potential to transform battery technology.

Chinese scientists have discovered a previously undiscovered kind of ore that includes a rare earth element that is highly sought after for its superconductive qualities.

According to the South China Morning Post, the ore, known as niobobaotite, is composed of niobium, barium, titanium, iron, and chloride.

The niobium is the one generating the excitement: Nowadays, steel is mostly made from this light gray metal, which strengthens it without significantly increasing its weight. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, niobium is a superconductor at low temperatures and is used to make other alloys (materials built of mixes of metals). It is also found in particle accelerators and other cutting-edge scientific apparatus.

On October 3, the deposit was discovered in the Bayan Obo ore deposit in the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou. According to the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the brownish-black ore is one of 150 new minerals discovered in the area and the 17th new kind discovered in the deposit.

According to the South China Morning Post, China, which presently imports 95% of its niobium, may benefit greatly from the finding.

Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Antonio H. Castro Neto, told the newspaper that China might become self-sufficient in niobium depending on its quantity and quality.

Canada falls far behind Brazil as the world's top supplier of rare earth metal. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that work is under progress in southern Nebraska to establish a niobium mining and processing plant. The sole niobium mining in the United States would be the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project.

The development of niobium-lithium and niobium-graphene batteries by researchers might lead to an increase in the metal's demand in the future.

When combined with lithium, these batteries can lower the danger of fires, claims S&P Global. In comparison to conventional lithium batteries, niobium-lithium batteries charge more quickly and may be refilled more frequently.

Niobium-graphene batteries are being developed by researchers at the Centre for Advanced 2D Materials (CA2DM) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The researchers announced in May that the batteries can completely charge in less than 10 minutes and have a 30-year lifespan, which is ten times longer than lithium-ion batteries.