Why is Niobium a Critical Mineral Resource for the United States?

In May 2018, President Trump has recognized a group of 35 ‘basic’ minerals considered necessary to US national and economic security, which are to be produced nearby.

This order follows Trump’s ‘America first’ initiative to lessen US dependence on imported natural resources, with a US Geological Survey (USGS) report reasoning that 20 of the 23 elementary minerals are sourced from China.

“Strategic and critical minerals are vital to our everyday lives . . .  It is imperative that we identify the roadblocks to meeting our national minerals needs so that we can become less dependent on foreign suppliers, increase our national security, and create more American jobs by securing our manufacturing industry and revitalizing our economy,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) following congressional approval of the Act.

Niobium is one of these minerals and was recognized as both critical and essential mineral, indicating its significance to the US, even though it’s not an easy mineral to extract and process.

Niobium’s qualities make it one of the top 8 strategic raw materials considered indispensable.

Critical minerals and their uses

These minerals have been deemed important to the US’s national welfare in part due to their inherent military and industrial potential.

Niobium’s main function is making steel stronger, lighter and more corrosion-resistant, producing high-strength, low-alloy steels.

Jeffery A. Green, the president of a bipartisan government-relations firm in Washington DC and a former US Air Force commander, wrote in Defense News that, “without access to such minerals, our precision-guided missiles will not hit their targets, our aircraft and submarines will sit unfinished in depots, and our war-fighters will be left without the equipment they need to complete their missions.”

The scarcity of Niobium means that the vast majority is currently imported. The report notes that niobium has not been mined in the US since 1959. It is now imported from Brazil and Canada only.